Disaster drill to mimic real chaos, test response quickness 

In a race against time and amid simulated chaos, volunteers will pound the pavement for three hours to get emergency "medicine" into the hands of 3,000 San Mateo and Foster City residents.

Dubbed "Silver Dragon II", the March 13 exercise will test the county’s ability to receive and distribute large quantities of medicine and medical supplies from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Strategic National Stockpile. The SNS was designed to provide immediate medical care after an explosion or bioterrorism attack.

Working with Foster City and San Mateo fire and police, as well as the county health departments, volunteers in brightly colored vests will go door to door in both cities from 9 a.m. to noon.

While they will hand out earthquake preparedness materials in place of medicine, the drill has been designed to mimic the chaos and confusion that would accompany a real disaster, said San Mateo County Health Department spokeswoman Beverly Thames.

County officials will gauge how many households the volunteers can reach in three hours and test communication using satellite phones, handheld and HAM radios.

The drill is the biggest of its kind in the area, Thames said. In January 2007, the health department coordinated with Foster City to conduct a similar drill, Silver Dragon, reaching 1,300 households.

"I think the biggest challenge this year for the health department was making the exercise more realistic, so we could get a better picture of how many households we could reach," Thames said.

In an actual health crisis serious enough to deplete local supplies, medicines could be delivered by the federal government within 12 hours. The goal of the March 13 drill is to see how quickly those supplies could get into the hands of San Mateo County residents, Thames said.

While the exercise is a colossal coordination project, the organizing of volunteers and hammering out of logistics is being done by the fire departments, said Carl Hess, the county’s bioterrorism grant coordinator.

"The fire departments are extremely organized and experienced, so it’s easy to conduct a drill with them," he said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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