Home News Local news Emergency Officials Meet to Discuss Managing a Major Disaster

Emergency Officials Meet to Discuss Managing a Major Disaster


Feb. 27, 2008 — Planning for the worst, government and commercial organizations met Wednesday in St. Croix's Charles Harwood Medical Complex and talked with one another about who would do what, should a flu pandemic come to the territory, killing too many people for the normal systems to handle.
"It's a mass-fatality exercise in a pandemic event," said Renata Christian, Pandemic Influenza Planning Coordinator with the Office of Public Health Preparedness in the Department of Health. … "The goal is to get all the people who would play a role in such an event together."
Getting organizations with resources all together in one room allowed organizers to assess what resources they had on hand, figure out where the gaps and potential shortcomings may be, and hash out how the diverse organizations would coordinate together, Christian explained. The exercise looked at bringing together the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard, fire and rescue personnel, the police, the Department of Justice, the hospitals and transportation agencies with private companies such as funeral homes and shipping companies with large refrigeration facilities.
"Once we identify the gaps, we can work to correct them," Christian said. "Working together, we are able to best utilize our scarce resources in an emergency."
Envirosafe, an emergency-preparedness consulting firm, led the exercise, dividing the gathered corporate and government officials into groups, then leading them through an imaginary influenza catastrophe, from the first reports of illness through to when a rising death toll starts to strain the system, and beyond.
Because most people stricken with influenza will seek medical services before death, it is necessary for hospitals, nursing homes and even prisons, to plan for more rapid processing of the dead and the establishment of temporary morgues, said Health Commissioner Vivian Ebbesen-Fludd said in a written statement to the press before the event.
"During a pandemic, local authorities will have to be prepared to manage additional deaths due to a pandemic, over and above the number of deaths from all causes," Ebbesen-Fludd said in the written statement.
Other issues tackled included transportation, storage and other issues, including the possibility of funeral homes running out of inexpensive caskets for low-income families with multiple deaths and providing alternatives and the lack of burial space, which would force the consideration for mass burial and cremations. The Virgin Islands would also have to consider cultural differences and procedures for burials because of its multi-ethnic population, Ebbesen-Fludd said.
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