Federal evaluators: County well-prepared for disaster

For third consecutive year, it earned perfect score on readiness assessment

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

For the third year in a row, Chester County received a perfect score in emergency readiness from federal evaluators.

For the third year in a row, Chester County received a perfect score in emergency readiness from federal evaluators.

For the third consecutive year, Chester County has received a perfect score of 100 on the 2013 Federal Technical Assistance Review (TAR), an annual assessment of emergency readiness by the Centers for Disease Control, the commissioners said Wednesday.

The assessment, supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Health of the overall county Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), delighted county employees; however, they are not complacent, said the Health Department’s Betsy Walls, bureau director of personal health services.

“It shows how far we’ve come,” she said. The county’s first score six or seven years ago was a whopping 18 percent, she said. “The second year we got 49 percent,” she said. “So we’ve been continually improving.”

Walls said ongoing exercises help ensure that the county has a viable plan in place to deal with disasters. More full-scale tests are pending. On June 24 and 25, the SNS team will assess the county’s ability to coordinate the distribution and dispensing of medication to the entire county population, based on the scenario of a mass Anthrax exposure. “We all have to be prepared for a variety of scenarios,” Walls said.

The federal TAR evaluation took place on March 27, according to a county news release. The review included assessment of 12 SNS program elements such as command, control, and coordination; communication and public information; and the core element of county-wide distribution and dispensing of medication in response to a medical emergency impacting the whole county.

“The evaluators noted Chester County’s excellent operational SNS plan as being one of the best in the nation,’” said Commissioners’ Chairman Ryan Costello.

Commissioner Kathi Cozzone said the perfect rating also highlights a collaborative effort since participants include every school district and hospital, private companies, and universities. “It is a great example of a joint private and public partnership with the goal to keep everyone safe,” she said.

Noting the importance of citizens’ safety, Commissioner Terence Farrell said, “We will continue to modify and improve the SNS program, learning lessons from past training, exercises, and evaluations and responding to changes in ever-evolving risks and threats.”

Chester County’s SNS program is spearheaded by the county’s Health and Emergency Services departments and facilitated and supported by the Aquila Strategy and Operations Group. The team includes key county personnel, county school district representatives, hospital officials, representatives of care homes, municipal officials and groups, private businesses, large corporations, as well as several colleges and universities.

During SNS exercises, Chester County also relies on a dedicated group of Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers who augment the existing county emergency medical personnel resources. The participation of this group is valuable for the SNS program and for any major public health emergency. Volunteers with medical and non-medical backgrounds are always needed, and more information about the MRC can be found on www.chesco.org/mrc.

The Chester County SNS program is part of a federally-managed system that, in the event of a major public health emergency – natural or human-caused – provides medication, medical equipment, and medical supplies to local areas to support the local emergency-responders. Typical planning scenarios include terrorist attacks, pandemic influenza and mass Anthrax exposure. In the event of such an emergency, citizens would be given specific instructions, and in most cases, would be directed to go to various dispensing sites to receive medication, the release said.


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