In the second such gathering, regional public health officials and law enforcement representatives met Thursday for the Northwest Georgia Public Health Law Enforcement Summit.
The meeting focused planning efforts on the secure transport of medication or supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) to communities in the district.
“We pull all the lead law enforcement, the EMA, nurse managers at the health department, environmental health managers, anybody that deals with law enforcement on a local level and we talk about our security and transport plan for SNS assets. All that means is we want to have everybody in one room and go over what we are going to be responsible for in the transport [of] medications or medical supplies from the state level to our district level whenever the SNS brings stuff to us,” said Emergency Preparedness Director for the Northwest Georgia Public Health District Shaun Brand.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the SNS houses quantities of free medicine and medical supplies to protect the American public in the event of a public health emergency — terrorist attack, flu outbreak, earthquake — severe enough to deplete local supplies. Once authorities at the federal and local levels agree the SNS is needed, medicines will be delivered to the state within a time frame that allows them to be effective.
One of 18 such health districts across the state, Thursday’s summit coordinated officials from across the Northwest Georgia 10-county district, which includes Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Chattooga, Floyd, Gordon, Polk, Bartow, Haralson and Paulding counties. The district is then subdivided into divisions with Bartow in Division C with Polk County.
“What happens is, say we run out of a certain antibiotic or there is a disaster or bioterrorism or anything like that — our local supplies of whatever we need has run out and it can be antibiotics, penicillin, anything ... we need help getting those here, so the federal government has set up caches of these things across the U.S. in times of disaster. They will send that to the state and the state will send it to us,” Brand said. “This meeting is to tell all these guys, the local guys are going to need to help us. We need direction on how to do this, how to secure it because we are public health, we are not security. We know about the medications and we know about what we need them for but securing them from Point A to Point B is not us.”
Because of the agency’s ability to traverse the state, the Georgia State Patrol is integral to the SNS efforts.
“GSP is a major player. The governor said we have to have GSP involved in this planning process, and he’s right because they can go across county lines, across district lines. They are a major planning partner in all this,” Brand explained.
For Bartow County, escort and security responsibilities fall to the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office and municipal police, with the GSP available if needed.
The knowledge of the communities, roadways and security measures makes local law enforcement involvement invaluable.
“If you have a large truck and you need a large highway, you don’t want to be going down the small, single-lane road that may get you in trouble somewhere. They know that. That’s why they have to be part of this planning ...,” Brand said.
For Emergency Management Agency Director Paul Cuprowski, who began in Bartow in September, the personal interaction is useful.
“These are the people you are going to be interacting with in a situation,” he said. “Going back to my first interview when I said I didn’t want to meet the Georgia Power representative the first time during an incident, nor do I want to meet public health people for the first time on a pandemic. ... Now we are being introduced at the higher levels all the way down to whoever is doing the escorting of the antidotes or the medication throughout the state in this instance.”
Brand agreed, calling face-to-face communication the most important part of the process.
“You’ve gotta have a direction. You can’t, when you get a phone call and you hear something has happened, it’s better to have some idea of what to start doing. You’ve got to have a plan,” he said. “... The planning is important, yes, the paperwork is all important. More important is this, getting face to face with our partners.”
One question that arose during the summit addressed trucking needs. Under the SNS program, 12-hour Push Packages can be delivered anywhere in the U.S. or its territories within 12 hours of a federal deployment decision, the CDC website said. State officials said Thursday that Georgia provides trucks and drivers should they be needed at the local level.
Cuprowski asked whether utilizing state transportation would delay delivery of the assets. No, according to the state.
“What was a good dialogue I was having as far as transporting, getting the trucks to transport your product. It’s nice to know the states and the feds have something in place that ... they have hundreds of vehicles, if needed, to transport this,” Cuprowski said. “... If we had to come from here, meaning Cartersville for example, down to the supply and then do a turnaround and come back, I didn’t know where those other trucks were coming from that she eluded to that she had. Therefore, we found out it actually would probably shave some time. ... If we had a four-hour turnaround doing it ourselves, we may be able to knock it down to a two-hour turnaround coming from there.”
And the feasibility of an event occurring is present, he added.
“Coming from Atlanta, you would think that the threat is more imminent coming from a big city. And that’s a possibility. Hopefully, we’ll never find out,” Cuprowski said. “But a lot of people forget, I think the trial is going on right now for the three men up in north Georgia planning to go down [Interstate] 75 with a crop duster and spray down chemical.
“So, if that was the case, Bartow County guess where we are? We are I-75 from start to finish, from the south side to the north side. There’s a very good chance if they had pulled that off we could have been involved and affected right here in Bartow County. ... So the threat is real. It doesn’t matter where you live in America anymore, the threat is real.”
For more information on the Strategic National Stockpile, visit http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/stockpile/stockpile.htm. Information on Northwest Georgia Public Health is available at http://www.nwgapublichealth.org/.