HJ/EDMay 22, 2006

What if Lester Prairie got the bird flu?

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

If a terrorist were to strike Lester Prairie, or the bird flu would rip through southern Minnesota, would the local government be prepared?

This is the question Lester Prairie Police Chief Bob Carlson, along with other cities in the McLeod County area, are hoping to answer with a pandemic preparedness drill Wednesday, June 28 from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

The drill is organized by McLeod, Meeker, and Sibley counties to walk officials and citizens through the steps that would need to be taken if a tragedy hit, like anthrax poisoning.

For people who wonder if a drill like this is really necessary Carlson has a simple answer; “We need to be prepared.”

“If a pandemic actually happened, 30 to 40 percent of the workforce could become ill,” McLeod County Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Kathy Nowak said.

This means that services that are depended on every day, like phone service, electricity, health care, delivery services, and more would not be fully operational.

“Everyone needs to have a plan on how to keep their programs going – decide what things can be cut and what can’t,” Nowak said.

Nowak also stresses the importance of individuals having plans for themselves in a crisis.

“We can’t depend on the federal government to help us. It’s our job to take care of ourselves on a local and individual level,” Nowak said.

Because of this, McLeod, Meeker, and Sibley counties have come together to form a strategy.

Last year, all three counties conducted a mass dispensing site drill, where they evaluated how well they could hand out medication to large numbers of people during a crisis.

This year, they will focus on getting as many people through triage as possible.

Two sites will be set up in McLeod County, one at Glencoe-Silver Lake High School, and the other at McLeod County Fairgrounds in Hutchinson.

The county is asking for volunteers, to be the patients.

Carlson will be working with the law enforcement agencies to make sure they can secure the sites.

Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich is hoping his department can participate as well, but it will depend on the manpower available. He is happy the county is doing it, though.

“It’s well needed; if anything, it is going to show us our weaknesses,” Henrich said.

To help evaluate those weaknesses, a command center will be set up at each site and managed by law enforcement or the fire departments.

Workers will practice sending people through triage, which requires them to evaluate each person’s symptoms and either send them to get treatment via bus to Hutchinson, or let them leave to get back to their families.

“There are a lot of people involved,” Nowak said, who has been planning this drill since January.

Not only are the law enforcement agencies, bussing companies, health care workers, and county officials participating, but Nowak has witnessed a network stretching across southern Minnesota and the state.

“We’re sharing information and trying not to reinvent the wheel,” said Nowak, who has sat in on similar drills in other counties.

When the drill happens in McLeod, Meeker, and Sibley counties, people from the surrounding areas will come to help evaluate how it went.

“We’re planning for the worst case scenario – hoping that it never happens,” Nowak said.

Anyone who is interested in volunteering can call Kathy Nowak (320) 864-3185.

Being prepared

Anyone who is interested in volunteering to help officials at the city, state, and county level be prepared for a tragedy, call Kathy Nowak (320) 864-3185.

A preparedness drill takes place Wednesday, June 28 from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Lunch will be provided for volunteers.

For advice on individual preparedness plans, visit www.ready.gov for checklists of things to do now.

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