The Jackson County Health Department turned the SIU Arena into an emergency response site Wednesday to help it prepare to respond to the release of a biological agent.
Every five years the Jackson County Health Department is required to test its ability to dispense medication in a timely manner. The exercise Wednesday involved an intentional release of anthrax.
While around 40 volunteers played various sectors of the public needing assistance, a message played over the intercom system to help them understand how the medication would be distributed.
"In the next ten days, you will receive the remaining medicine to complete the 60-day course. You will be provided a phone number and website address where you can obtain additional information on receiving the remaining 50-day supply for you and your household members."
The health department's Bart Hagston oversaw the drill. He says his staff will learn a lot from the exercise, but it's also a good time to remind the public to prepare as much as possible at home.
"So, while public health officials are preparing to assist the community in such an event. The public needs to have an emergency kit at home, be informed, have an emergency plan. So, all these things at home can help prepare them to take care of themselves and their families and hopefully then be able to come out and help the community as well."
Hagston says improvements will need to be made in speeding up the flow of people through distribution lines, better signage and better communication overall with the public in what will be a time of high anxiety.
Volunteer Eric Moss of Carbondale says he thinks the exercise went really well.
"I think it's a pretty good feeling to know they're preparing for these kind of things and that the people involved seem to be very professional and efficient."
Scott Fletcher of West Frankfort was also one of the volunteers. He says things went smoothly, even though he admits this was a much calmer atmosphere than what we would see in a real emergency.
"I think this event helps the health department with being able to process, 'this is where we could improve, this is how we could do things better in the future and address this on a mass scale."
Hagston says in a real event, there would be a large public site like the Arena, with smaller sites for specific groups of people to receive medication.
"Law enforcement would go to one place. Elected officials would go to one place...health care workers. We might have closed sites, at say, nursing homes and other facilities. So, we want to get medications out to the whole community."
Hagston says one of the volunteer comments he likes seems pretty routine, but hearing how his staff was friendly is important because in a real emergency, some people will be panicking.
"They're going to be scared, afraid. So, us being a friendly face and being there to answer all their questions is important. I think that helps to facilitate them calming down and being able to get through the line and take care of their families."
Hagston says even though an anthrax attack is unlikely in Jackson County, preparing for one like this will help them be ready for other emergencies, such as an H1N1 outbreak.