A health department official has asked the school board to sign an agreement of understanding that would allow the department to use school facilities and staff in case of an emergency.
Phyllis Roland, the Columbia County Health Department's facility administrator, said she would like to include the school system in the county's National Pharmaceutical Stockpile Program emergency plan, using high schools and staff members to help the department administer medications, antidotes, vaccinations and information in case of emergency.
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Web site, the mission of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Pharmaceutical Stockpile Program is to ensure the availability and rapid deployment of life-saving pharmaceuticals, antidotes, medical supplies and equipment necessary to counter the effects of nerve agents, biological pathogens and chemical agents.
"Once a local system has been overwhelmed, local health officials could request medical supplies from the stockpile, but cities have to have an approved plan to receive from this stockpile," Roland said.
The program was tested in the real-life terrorist attacks Sept. 11 when state officials from New York and local officials requested large quantities of medical material and logistical assistance, and again in October and November 2001 in areas affected by anthrax attacks.
There are 12 stockpiles in the nation from which supplies could be shipped and arrive anywhere within 12 hours.
"We've been told it could be here in four hours," Roland said.
There are two undisclosed docking sites in Richmond County where these supplies would be dispersed to the 13 counties in the region.
"We don't have the people to do this," Roland said. "In the case of smallpox, you are talking 100 dispensing stations in Columbia County giving a shot every 1.5 minutes for three days to immunize the entire population of Columbia County."
She said the plan is not just for terrorism, but could also be launched in case of an outbreak of diseases such as influenza or severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Roland said high school staff could be used to process people through the system and provide educational materials and instruction.
"If you work for the state, you are part of that plan," she told the board. "If something like this should happen, it's going to be the only game in town."
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