Full-Scale Exercise to Test State's Emergency Response to Possible Influenza Pandemic

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 22, 2008) - The state will practice and test its emergency response to an "influenza pandemic" during a full-scale exercise to be conducted Monday through Thursday.

Called NYFLEx for New York Full Scale Logistics Exercise, the drill will test the state's ability to effectively implement its Pandemic Influenza Emergency Response Plan during a practice scenario in which an outbreak of a highly contagious H5N1 influenza virus spreads from China to New York.

In particular, the exercise will focus on the state's ability to mobilize and distribute resources including antiviral medications, respirators, masks, and ventilators to the hardest hit counties and hospitals. As part of the exercise, the state will transport supplies from its Medical Emergency Response Cache (MERC) and request additional supplies from the federal Strategic National Stockpile.

The exercise will also focus on assessing high-level decision-making by Health Department senior staff in allocating limited resources, including antiviral medications and ventilators, when there aren't sufficient resources to meet the need.

Led by the State Health Department, "players" in the exercise will include 62 hospitals and 28 county health departments, as well as emergency management agencies in Suffolk and Onondaga counties and other local agencies in the Capital Region and Central New York counties; the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO); the State Office of Homeland Security, the State Police, the State Division of Military and Naval Affairs; the State Office of General Services; and the State Department of Correctional Services.

"New Yorkers can be assured there is no immediate threat of an influenza pandemic," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "But public health experts around the world believe it is not a question of if, but when, a pandemic will occur, and New York wants to be as ready as possible. This exercise is one of many drills we have been conducting around the state to practice and test our response."

"State agencies are continually working to protect New Yorkers and ensure the strongest response possible to many potential threats," said John R. Gibb, Director of SEMO. "Earlier this month we conducted a hurricane exercise to test our preparedness and response capabilities. Now we will test our ability to respond to pandemic flu."

"An effective response to an influenza pandemic requires strong collaboration and coordination among New York's public health agencies and health care facilities, as well as federal and state agencies," said Robert L. Burhans, director of the State Health Department's Office of Emergency Preparedness. "This exercise allows us to practice that coordination, increasing our readiness for a real public health emergency."

During a severe pandemic, in addition to antiviral medications, there will be tremendous need for mechanical ventilators to provide breathing support to large numbers of critically ill people. Although the state continues to purchase and stockpile ventilators as part of pandemic preparedness, shortages of ventilators are inevitable and rationing will be required.

During the exercise, State Health Department senior staff and clinicians in participating hospitals will refer to the Department's "Guidelines on the Allocation of Ventilators in an Influenza Pandemic," currently the only planning document of its kind in the nation developed to help guide difficult clinical and ethical decisions about the allocation of scare ventilators during a severe pandemic.

To assess available resources at health care facilities during the exercise, the State Health Department will use a statewide electronic web-based system known as HERDS for Health Emergency Response Data System, which provides an emergency communication link to all health care facilities through a secure internet site.

HERDS provides real time data visualization, including GIS mapping of data, to track laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations, inpatient bed capacity, available ventilators, isolation room capacity, staff resources, and the availability of drugs and supplies by facility, county and region.

The Department will also activate its Public Information/Crisis Emergency Risk Communication Plan and use a secure Health Alert Notification (HAN) system to provide fast and reliable communication with local health officials, health care facilities and clinicians during the practice drill.