NAS PATUXENT RIVER

Public Health Emergency Officer Plays Vital Role During Emergency Drill

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Story by Donna M Cipolloni on 03/07/2019
During the 2019 Citadel Shield/Solid Curtain (CSSC) anti-terrorism force protection exercise, a resource that hadn't been utilized for a number of years was called into action the Public Health Emergency Officer, better known as the PHEO.

On Feb. 6, the pre-planned CSSC exercise included a bio-terror incident at Center Stage Theater where an individual carried and detonated an explosive device, releasing a biological agent that created an imminent threat of illness or health condition, which qualifies as a public health emergency.

"In this case, suspected anthrax was deployed in gusting winds," explained Dr. Patricia Bray with Naval Health Clinic Patuxent River. "In my role as PHEO, I was activated to work under [Pax River Commanding Officer] Capt. Jason Hammond who is the overall incident commander."

Bray immediately reported to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), joining other representatives from various departments across the installation, such as administration, logistics, air operations, fire and emergency, security, and public affairs, among others all with their own role to play.

For her part, Bray apprised Hammond of the medical impact from the drill event, advising him on his response, assisting with public communication, launching the necessary medical and public health notifications, and seeking the additional expertise needed for such an incident. That expertise varies widely from a meteorologist who could track how far the anthrax spread in the short term, to Defense Health Agency epidemiologists would could help identify and track people who fall ill over time.

"Each call I made triggered a domino effect of assistance and required notifications," Bray said. "County public health was immediately responsive, and in the process, I learned we have a bio safety officer at Dahlgren. I now know I could call on that unique internal resource in the event of a real-life incident."

Bray credits her success in the EOC to her close working relationship with Lt. Cmdr. Sadie Henry, who serves as the NAS Flight Surgeon and is also responsible for setting up the health clinic's response to mass casualties at Pax River.

"In past CSSC exercises, Lt. Cmdr. Henry has stood up a triage team, but we wanted to expand on that this year," Bray noted. "She asked me to help form a scenario for a bio-terror agent and we developed it together. It launched a new, complicated facet of response."

Henry, who arrived at Pax River two years ago, wrote the clinic's mass casualty response standard operating procedures, and has been doing exercises with the base ever since.

"I help provide medical scenarios for the people who write the drills, so it's my job to advise them on something that's doable that fire and emergency can respond to, as well as the clinic," she said. "I'm also the medical evaluator for the clinic mass casualty response team and have a great working relationship with the fire department and EMTs. We do training with them and want to continue that relationship so if something actually happens at Pax River, they're not alone. Because we're here on base, we'd be able to get help to them before anyone off base could arrive."

Hammond was also appreciative of the PHEO's contributions in the EOC.

"What we learned from this particular scenario is that we have a resource that is able to come into the EOC and guide our efforts to keep us from going down an illogical path," Hammond said. "The expertise and accessibility of the PHEO to come and work for the installation [in an emergency situation] was extremely important and valuable, both to gain her knowledge and to understand how she can interact within the EOC."

Hammond stressed the importance of being able to reach out to those resources in a crisis and effectively integrate them into the process.

"If you don't practice that, you won't be ready for it and you won't be as effective," he added. "Medical was extremely helpful and giving of their time and expertise to help us get through the drill as an installation and to understand how we're going to go forward with handling difficult situations."

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