Emergency responders get ready to hit the pavement running 

The recent outbreaks of norovirus and the persistent coughing and sickness this winter have shown that viruses can spread quickly through the more than 7 million residents of the Bay Area.

Starting at 9 a.m. today, the San Mateo County Health Department will test how quickly and effectively emergency personnel and community volunteers can respond to a simulated influenza outbreak.

During the Silver Dragon emergency drill, Foster City’s 13 Community Emergency Response Team volunteers, the Belmont Police and Fire Departments and the county Health Department will work together to distribute influenza information packets to more than 1,000 homes in just three hours.

San Mateo County Health Department Spokeswoman Beverly Thames said that in the event of a real outbreak — natural or as a result of an attack — volunteers would be called on to perform the same tasks as in the drill, but would be handing out medications or other supplies as needed.

"We’d have to rely heavily on volunteers, it’s not something the county could do by itself, especially in a pandemic," county health spokeswoman Beverly Thames said.

The volunteers in today’s drill are the first graduating class of Foster City’s CERT program, which began last October.

"The people that were in that class are very energetic about doing whatever we can to prepare for emergencies," CERT volunteer Rod Stewart said. "This will be a great opportunity for us to work together and with other members of the city."

In the event of a real catastrophe, the county would first use its stockpile of medical supplies and then rely on the United States Center for Disease Control’s Strategic National Stockpile. The SNS has been expanded since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, and now includes medical supplies in addition to treatments for bioterrorism and large-scale explosions.

In addition to the distribution, the county will test their ability to request, receive and distribute stockpiled medical supplies and the county Office of Emergency Services will work on coordinating efforts using nontraditional communications like ham radios.

"Any opportunity that we have to exercise our plan to be better prepared is a great thing for us, and it’s a great opportunity to work with the Health Department and prepare for any other incident that can happen," Foster City Silver Dragon spokeswoman Andra Lorenz said.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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