If an outbreak of a respiratory infection affected Southwest Colorado, how would officials in this isolated area of the state receive and distribute medications to treat or prevent it?
That was the point of Friday's Phed-Ex, a statewide exercise coordinated locally by San Juan Basin Public Health. For three days, public health officials cooperated with local hospitals and other agencies on how they would distribute medicine to large segments of the population.
Just as if the real thing happened, San Juan Basin Public Health ordered the medicines on Thursday, they arrived later that day via airplane from Denver, and they were transported to various distribution centers in the county. On Friday, they were distributed to about 150 volunteers at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.
"We're testing the mobilization of resources at the state and local level," said Liane Jollon, executive director of the public heath agency. Actually, the practice went a little quicker than a real distribution, but it gives local health providers practice in ordering, receiving and distributing drugs during an emergency.
"If you don't practice, you don't know what you can do," said one of the volunteers, Keith Roush of Durango, a retired first responder. He's worked on response exercises for search and rescue, as well as emergency management and airport emergency responses.
"It was pretty efficient," he said of Friday's exercise. "Quick and simple."
Volunteers were greeted at the door and filled out a health form. If they didn't have underlying health issues, they were given an empty bottle of an antibiotic, along with instructions for dosage. The volunteers had to return the bottle to get a free lunch. Volunteers participating in the exercise also received a first-aid kit and had the chance to win door prizes.
Such a distribution center would be used for people who were still healthy during an outbreak, Jollon said. Those showing signs of sickness would be directed a hospital or clinic.
Such exercises are called PODs, for point of distribution, explained Claire Ninde, the planning and communications director for San Juan Basin Public Health.
The agency has practiced PODs in the past when it conducted vaccination clinics, she said.
The exercises were conducted statewide with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Antibiotics would be used to prevent or treat a novel respiratory infection, for example, or possibly a case of bio-terrorism, Jollon said. They wouldn't be effective in treating influenza or colds.
More information about Phed-Ex is on the health agency's website, www.sjbpublichealth.org.