- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 18, 2003

NORFOLK (AP) — The Virginia Department of Health is measuring the state’s ability to respond to a terrorist attack during a large-scale drill today through Wednesday.

More than 1,000 people will be involved in the statewide test, including 200 public health workers and hundreds of “mock patients,” said health department spokeswoman Trina Lee.

In the Fairfax area alone, officials expect to use about 500 volunteer patients. Seventy hospitals and 110 health departments will participate.

Officials had not tallied the cost of the exercise, Miss Lee said. She projects the rehearsal, which will also involve the military, will cost far less than the recent $16 million “TOPOFF 2” drill in Illinois and Washington state.

That May drill, staged by the Department of Homeland Security, involved more than 8,000 people and simulated an attack with a radioactive “dirty bomb” in Seattle and plague in Chicago.

In the Virginia drill, participants may play the roles of sick patients who appear in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, Miss Lee said. Health directors will practice tracking down the source of illnesses.

Although officials would not reveal many details, they said it would involve the Strategic National Stockpile, a cache of lifesaving medicines the federal government keeps on hand to treat victims of terrorism. The stockpile, stored in secret locations around the country, can be shipped anywhere nationwide in 12 hours or less, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Supplies included in the stockpile are a “Whitman’s sampler” of pharmaceuticals, said Mike Staley, program services consultant with the CDC, who spoke in Norfolk about the stockpile program last week. “Push packages” of supplies — which weigh 50 tons and fill a wide-body aircraft — include antibiotics, antidotes, fluids, drugs to reopen patients’ airways and other essentials.

States are required to conduct drills to receive federal anti-terrorism funding. Eight other states already have rehearsed using the stockpile, Mr. Staley said.

Some bioterrorism drills elsewhere have not gone well. In an exercise simulating a plague outbreak in Denver, antibiotics from the stockpile sat at the airport for hours while workers waited for someone to bring plastic bags, count the pills and bag them, according to “When Every Moment Counts,” a book by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is also a physician. It was estimated that as many as 4,000 people would have died had the exercise been real.

During the Dark Winter exercise at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland in June 2001, a simulated smallpox outbreak spread to 25 states and 10 countries. The simulation showed that 16,000 people would have been infected and 1,000 of them killed.

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