State Health Department Holds Preparedness Training Exercise

Thousands of State Workers Receive Flu Vaccinations as Part of "Point of Dispensing" Exercise to Evaluate Procedures for Mass Delivery of Medications in the Event of a Medical Emergency

ALBANY, NY, November 9, 2005 – More than 2,000 state workers are participating in a training exercise today at the Empire State Plaza in Albany to help State health officials rehearse a public health response effort that would be used to protect New Yorkers in the event of a major disease outbreak.

The State Health Department is conducting the "Point of Dispensing" exercise to evaluate procedures for mass vaccinations or the rapid delivery of medications to a large population. The state workers who volunteered to take part in this exercise will receive routine influenza (flu) vaccinations.

State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. said the Department's first-ever "ProtEX NY" mass influenza vaccination exercise will provide invaluable hands-on experience to counter a future health emergency.

"Under Governor Pataki's leadership, the State Health Department has been working closely with local health departments, hospitals and health care practitioners to be ready for all types of public health emergencies, no matter what their origin," Dr. Novello said. "We're gaining crucial experience today that can't be replicated except in a real event. While we hope that will never happen, it is essential that we be prepared."

Between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm today, State Health Department staff will provide flu shots or Flu Mist® intra-nasal vaccine to state workers who previously registered to get vaccinated. Any state employee who works in a building at the Empire State Plaza was eligible to sign up to be vaccinated.

Today's exercise at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center will give State Health Department staff experience in vaccinating a large number of people in a short time. Workers at the State Point of Dispensing (POD) site are filling a large variety of roles, including many that do not require medical experience. In addition to administering vaccine, volunteers have been assigned to help fill out forms, give people directions, keep track of supplies, or perform other jobs, such as:

  • Set up and break down equipment;
  • Assist people being vaccinated with paperwork;
  • Streamline and direct people waiting to be vaccinated;
  • Provide computer network support;
  • Support internal communications; and
  • Prepare and serve food.

"Every county in New York State has already identified locations that could serve as PODs for local residents, if necessary," Dr. Novello said. "Many local health departments have conducted similar mass vaccination exercises, as well. Preparedness is crucial and we are committed to enhancing our readiness in every way possible."

The ProtEX NY exercise is being supported, in part, with federal grant funds. It is part of a comprehensive public health preparedness initiative that is further enhancing New York's ability to respond to a naturally-occurring or man-made health crisis.

"If a major public health crisis occurred, we must be prepared to respond quickly with antibiotics, antiviral medications or vaccines to stop the spread of disease," Dr. Novello said. "ProtEX NY is an opportunity for the State Health Department to exercise its plan to operate Point of Dispensing sites and vaccinate state workers who provide vital services to the people of New York. In a true emergency, we'll need to ensure that state employees whose jobs are critical to protect public health and safety continue to have the ability to provide services and care to those in need."

Among the State's other ongoing public health preparedness initiatives are:

  • The development of a comprehensive pandemic flu plan which is currently being reassessed based on the new federal guidance released last week. The plan has three key strategies to help protect the public health: detection, containment and treatment.
  • Providing assistance to Local Health Departments, which have received nearly $50 million to enhance their preparedness and response capacity for health emergencies.
  • Working with hospitals, local health departments and partner state agencies to develop detailed emergency response plans and testing plans in tabletop drills and full scale training exercises.
  • Development of systems such as syndromic surveillance to quickly identify emerging disease threats. Biohazard Detection Systems (BDS) are operational in more than a dozen postal facilities throughout the state, and public health agencies are poised to respond immediately and effectively to a BDS alert.
  • Training doctors, nurses and other medical professionals about emergent health threats and treatment protocols.
  • Working with the Medical Society of the State of New York and the New York State Nurses' Association to establish a database of approximately 10,000 medical volunteers. Medical Reserve Corps representing teams of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals have also been established in 19 counties, with more than 5,000 volunteers.
  • Enhancing laboratory capacity for rapid diagnosis of disease threats, including establishment of a bio-defense laboratory at the State Health Department's Wadsworth Center Laboratories. More than $2.3 million has also been provided to upgrade public health laboratories in Erie and Westchester counties to Bio-Safety Level 3.
  • Helping hospitals prepare to handle a sudden influx of patients. The State Health Department has provided over $23 million to all acute care hospitals (over $160,000 each), and nearly $14 million to eight trauma centers (over $1.7 million each) that serve as regional resource centers around the state.
  • Development of the national model Health Emergency Response Data System (HERDS), a statewide electronic web-based data collection system linked to all New York State hospitals through a secure internet site that allows hospitals to relay resources or needs to the Department of Health during emergencies, or respond immediately to rapid request surveys in preparedness planning efforts.
  • Providing training to enhance the ability of Local Health Departments and healthcare organizations to communicate essential public information to reduce the risk of disease or injury in a public health emergency.

Lessons learned as a result of today's event will be quickly applied. In conjunction with Local health departments and healthcare organizations, the State Health Department will coordinate a series of drills and exercise across New York during the coming months to support public health preparedness.