Responders Prepare For Health Disaster

Oct 20, 2016

Opening line at the POD
Credit Levi Gutz

Officials in Clay County want to be ready for potential health disasters, like a major deadly flu outbreak or a biological attack.   Emergency responders held a large practice drill in Vermillion Thursday.

The drill is one of several periodically held at specific locations across the state where medications or vaccinations can be distributed to the public during an emergency.

Officials in brightly colored emergency vests are hurrying around, offering assistance to volunteers who are filing in.  Officials need to keep everyone moving. The volunteers are filling out health information as quickly as they can, before moving on to the next station. The sign outside in big letters reads ANTHRAX, Are you showing any symptoms?

The Clay County Union, a law enforcement and healthcare group, was charged with running a full Point of Dispensing or POD drill this year. A POD is a designated location for officials to distribute medication to a large population. A POD becomes active in case of a bio-terrorism attack or a pandemic. Clay County’s POD is in the Sanford Coyotes Sports Center on the University of South Dakota campus.  Volunteers and emergency responders performed their duties just as if it were the real thing. The public was welcomed to come and simulate a large crowd of potentially sick civilians. And there’s no telling how many people might come in an actual emergency.

“You don’t have to be from this county or this POD to come here. You can be from Nebraska, Iowa; you could be from out of state, you could be from a different country. You cannot close your doors to anybody at a POD,” says Freeman.

That’s Linda Grace Freeman, she’s an area nurse and a POD coordinator. She says this POD could medicate over 20,000 people in 48 hours.

Freeman says PODs started getting organized after 9-11. She says they conduct tests every two years, but drills of this scale only happen every four years. There are numerous crisis PODs must be ready to face.

“The vaccines would be used mainly for like flu. So like if it was Ebola, if it was Zika, Zika would be another vaccine, I saw they just got a vaccine for dengue, yeah it’s brand new, dengue fever, so if we lived in that area and we felt it was an epidemic and we needed to get it quick, we could pull together a POD and get as many people as we, as possible,” says Freeman.

Freeman says the event was only open for two hours, but it was an all-day effort. She says many people donated time, money and service to bring the disaster exercise together.