Statewide exercise prepares officials for plague pandemic

VIDEO: Statewide drill simulating plague outbreak to test health agencies

TUMWATER, Wash. — A statewide exercise took place Monday as health officials practiced life-saving strategies to get medication to people in a pandemic.

Boxes filled with bottles representing more than a million doses of antibiotics were stacked, labeled, loaded and shipped from two Washington locations.

“It’s enough medication to treat about a quarter of the state’s population,” said Michael Loehr, chief of Emergency Preparedness and Response for the Washington State Department of Health.

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The pill bottles are empty and most of the pallets are too, but the drill is good practice.

The Department of Health said it’s only a matter of time before an epidemic strikes our state.

“This is important because, if we have a real emergency, you’re going to be counting on the public health system to get you the meds to save your life,” said John Wiesman, Washington's secretary of health.

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In an crisis, time is of the essence. The mock medication comes from the Centers for Disease Control’s stockpile in Atlanta and needs to be passed out to people across the state in less than a day.

“What we’ve simulated is pneumonic plague released by a terrorist, so it’s been dispensed widely and very quickly, so that puts a lot of Washingtonians at risk and we need to receive a lot of medications and move them across the state very quickly,” said Loehr.

The drill also prepares them for an influenza pandemic, such as the one we saw 10 years ago, as well as natural disasters, such as an earthquake or wildfire.

“We have respiratory masks that we need to get out sometimes across the state or hospital beds that might need to deployed, so all of these are things we can do with this system we are testing today,” Wiesman said.

From the ground to the sky, state officials used every resource they had available to practice saving lives.