Southwest Disaster Coalition plans for the worst case scenarioSouthwest District Health Unit’s Sherry Adams thinks about things the rest of us probably would rather not. But she has to, it’s her job.
By: John Odermann, The Dickinson Press
DICKINSON - Southwest District Health Unit’s Sherry Adams thinks about things the rest of us probably would rather not. But she has to, it’s her job.
Adams is the director of the Southwest Disaster Coalition for Southwest District Health, and her job is to plan how eight counties in North Dakota would deal with a pandemic flu outbreak.
“We’re planning for the worst case scenario,” Adams said. “We’re planning for the very worst pandemic we could have but hope for something milder.”
Adams defined a pandemic as rapid spread of a disease across the nation and the world. She added that the Centers for Disease Control believe that we are long overdue for a pandemic flu outbreak.
The last major flu outbreak was in 1918, the Spanish flu, which killed 20-50 million people worldwide.
She was quick to point out that their preparation will assist them in dealing with a number of things, including terrorist attacks or a natural disaster.
“By preparing for the worst case scenario we are also prepared for other areas,” Adams said.
The disaster coalition’s responsibility is developing a management plan for Adams, Billings, Bowman, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, Slope and Stark counties and Adams works with emergency managers in each of those counties to coordinate the planning.
“Will it happen tomorrow? No probably not. We’ll probably have a little bit of warning,” Adams said. “What I always try to tell people is that if its five years down the road then we’ve had five more years to prepare.”
Part of the planning for such an occurrence involves the organization of different groups to deal with different issues.
The groups organized underneath the coalition’s umbrella and overseen by Adams are; the Utilities coalition, the Influenza coalition, the Mental Health Group and the Mass Fatalities Group.
“We are getting these people pre-trained and getting them ready to deal with something our region may face,” Adams said.
The utilities coalition’s responsibility will be to maintain those utilities that are able to be maintained during a crisis, such as water, electricity and fuel.
The influenza coalition’s main responsibility is the treatment of the disease or of patients affected by a disaster.
“What initially will happen, lets say, if we get the very first case in our region we will try our best to isolate that person,” Adams said.
The Mental Health Group and the Mass Fatalities Group will work closely together to help people deal with the anguish that might result from a disaster and the resulting decisions that are made Adams said.
Mental health professionals would populate the Mental Health Group and coroners, morticians and members of the clergy will populate the Mass Fatalities group.
For the time being, those being trained has been limited to emergency professionals in each of the counties such as police officers, firemen and other first responders.
“Right now we started out with health and medical, all the emergency managers, law enforcement,” Adams said. “One thing we try to stress is for individuals to do as much as they can to be prepared for this type of event on their own.”
Adams said it might not ever happen, but it’s important to be prepared if it does.
“It’s better to do this now than to wait till the very last minute and try to get everything ready,” Adams said. “What I always try to tell people is that if its five years down the road then we’ve had five more years to prepare.”