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Health officials ready to take lead in case of attack

By Jeff Hansel

jhansel@postbulletin.com

The Olmsted County Public Health Department says it's prepared to lead the county's emergency response agencies in the event of a bioterrorism attack.

The Public Health Committee of the Integrated Emergency Management System had a "table top" bioterrorism exercise Wednesday, working through hypothetical scenarios with representatives from Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center, fire departments, law enforcement agencies and ambulance crews.

During a fire, the fire department normally controls the situation. With a bus crash, ambulance crews control on-scene treatment, law enforcement officers control the roadway, and hospitals control treatment and recovery.

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But with bioterrorism, the situation is not contained to a crash site. There will be a sick patient here and another one there, a suspected case here and another one there. In that case, Olmsted County fire, health and law enforcement experts will cooperate under the lead of the public health department.

"In this sort of an incident, we would see public health taking more of a leadership role than a response role," said Mary Wellik, public health director for Olmsted County.

"Bioterrorism is a real possibility in our country. We know that now," Wellik said.

She said representatives from the different agencies taking part in Wednesday's drill were given a hypothetical biological-agent situation to discuss. The goal was to consider what plans each agency would put into effect if the event were real.

Participants attempted to identify their level of preparedness and tested the command structure within and between organizations.

"What we're really working on is increasing cooperation," Wellik said.

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