COLLEGE STATION – A new, deadly virus is discovered….U.S. mail is tainted with ricin….a measles outbreak occurs among the unvaccinated….a toxic chemical is released following an accident or natural disaster. Regardless of which public health emergency strikes, a plan for rapid, mass prophylaxis is vital. That’s where training offered by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) can help.
Since 2007, TEEX has helped prepare thousands of health care workers, public health departments and emergency medical services for the next public health threat or outbreak through specialized training in “Bioterrorism: Mass Prophylaxis Preparedness & Planning.”
The curriculum is applicable to pandemic influenza, bioterrorism and epidemic preparedness, said nurse and public health professional Mary Beth Riendeau, Training Specialist with EMS and Public Health Programs in TEEX’s Emergency Services Training Institute. This training helps the medical system to prepare and plan for rapidly dispensing medications or vaccines to large numbers of people for prophylaxis as well as treatment of people showing symptoms, she added.
The course helps guide local health officials and their partners in the public health system to coordinate plans to provide mass distribution of pharmaceuticals as related to the Division of Strategic National Stockpile (DSNS) program. Each U.S. region has designated Points of Dispensing (PODS), where critical medications or vaccines from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) will be dispensed in case of a public health emergency.
The two-day, DHS/FEMA-certified course draws representatives from public health, health care services, law enforcement, emergency medical services, emergency planning, emergency communications and volunteer management. The first day of training focuses on the community plan and how to achieve the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 48-hour standard for mass prophylaxis, Riendeau said. The second day of training focuses on Point of Dispensing (POD) site preparedness, and includes a hands-on tabletop exercise.
Originally offered through a grant from the CDC, the training is now available nationwide through a DHS/FEMA Homeland Security National Training Program Cooperative Agreement with TEEX’s National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center (NERRTC).
The course was recently offered for the first time in Rincon and San Juan, Puerto Rico, where it was conducted in the Spanish language. Sponsored by the Puerto Rico Office of Homeland Security, two classes were conducted by Instructors Riendeau and RoseAnn Elmore, with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter. The 80 participants included personnel who work in public health, emergency management, law enforcement and hospital preparedness in the region.
Since 2007, TEEX has provided this training for nearly 8,000 people in 34 states and several U.S. territories and Tribal Nations.