Lawrence M. Walsh
Officials from the Will County Health Department participated in a statewide emergency exercise to test the county’s response to a potential anthrax contamination on Tuesday, June 14. The exercise simulated a release of anthrax and the process of distributing antibiotics to local residents.
An emergency POD (point of dispensing) was opened at Lockport East High School to simulate a distribution center for the antidote and employees of the health department followed practiced procedures to safely allocate the antibiotics to residents of Will County.
“It is critical that we practice these scenarios on a regular basis to ensure our staff is fully prepared to protect the public in the event of a public health emergency such as an anthrax release,” said Elizabeth Bilotta, incident commander. “In a real emergency, there can be other mitigating factors that might influence the distribution process. So by continually training, we remain fully prepared for any potential situation.”
The exercise was in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Public Health and included counties across the state. The exercise in Will County focused on residents in the Lockport/Homer Glen area. Volunteers acted as residents and went through a multi-step process to receive the antidote, ciprofloxacin or doxycycline, which are designed to combat the anthrax bacterial illness.
“We had an overwhelming response for residents to participate as volunteers,” Bilotta said. “About 100 volunteers and 40 staff members helped make the exercise realistic because in a real emergency, we would be serving a very large number of people in a short period of time.”
Bilotta said this is one of the many training exercises the health department participates in each year.
“These exercises are critical because practice makes perfect,” she said. “We have a big job protecting the public’s health. We learn a valuable lesson from each and every exercise we do.”