School buses picked up people around the county and took them to Camp Rilea"We are going to learn a lot."

To the hundreds of citizens who came to the immunization clinic at Rilea Armed Forces Training Center Wednesday, the event was an opportunity to get flu, tetanus and childrens' vaccines free.

For public health nurse Margo Lalich and dozens of local officials and volunteers, it was a practice session for a possible medical emergency involving an actual disease outbreak.

County officials turned a vaccination clinic into an exercise to test their plans for mass immunization of the population in the event of a disease outbreak. The event at Camp Rilea was designed to provide some idea of what would be required to provide emergency immunizations to large numbers of citizens in the event of a smallpox outbreak, an epidemic of influenza, or a disruption to water or sewer facilities that threatens typhoid fever or other illnesses.

"This is not simply a flu clinic, this is an emergency preparedness exercise," said Lalich, who leads the county's bioterrorism preparedness program. She organized the event with fellow county health department nurse Michelle Standridge, who heads the department's immunization services.

Walkie-talkie in hand, Lalich helped direct the 180 volunteers who went about their tasks in official T-shirts bearing the event's slogan, "Help us help you."

Coordinated effortVolunteers came from Columbia Memorial Hospital, Providence Seaside Hospital, the American Red Cross, Clatsop Community College nursing program and LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

"He's a little concerned," says translator Mari Mitchell, left, of 13-year-old Cannon Beach resident David Compos who came to the clinic with his mother Catalina Compos, center. He was very nervous, says Mitchell, until he found out he would only have to get one shot.

Tongue Point Job Corps' medical training program, local Rotary clubs, churches, businesses, the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District and area fire and police departments.

During the four-hour clinic a total of 519 adults and children receives shots. Sixty children were also vaccinated. Participants were provided with free vaccines, but had to take a school bus shuttle to location, which was closed to private vehicles. School buses picked up people from stops around the county and carried them to Camp Rilea, which provided a large hall for the event.

Transportation was a "huge" part of the exercise, and the participation of the school districts, which provided buses and drivers, was key to pulling off the exercise. "I cannot commend the school districts enough," Lalich said.

Collecting people and bringing them to immunization sites will be a vital part of an emergency, which was one reason organizers wanted to test a shuttle system. In a real emergency, people will have to rely on mass transit to get to the site or sites providing vaccines, she said.

"We want to reinforce the message that the last thing you do in an emergency is clog the phone lines, or jump in your car and block all the major arterials," she said.

At the hall, several stations were set up to get people registered and into the booths where the immunizations were given as quickly as possible.

"We've taken a task that's normally done by two people at a clinic, and turned it into 12 tasks, so we can move people through more quickly," Lalich said. "We're trying to be able to vaccinate a diverse population all at one time."

Interpreters were on hand for Spanish-speaking clients. The volunteers also handled a group of developmentally disabled adults.

Aftermath of 9/11Local public health departments are the lead agencies in emergencies involving disease outbreaks. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks more federal money was made available for emergency preparation, but it came with requirements for response plans for smallpox outbreaks and bioterrorism events and other preparations.

"We're required to have a plan to vaccinate Clatsop County within 72 hours," Lalich said.

In a real emergency, the county would probably run several satellite vaccine clinics at various locations, rather than one central location like Wednesday's exercise, Lalich said.

Unexpected glitches provided some extra realism for the exercise. Organizers found that the building where the shots were given had no telephone outlets, so a van equipped with a satellite Internet connection was brought in, and four laptop computers hooked up.

At one point a volunteer came up to Lalich to tell her that the supply of vaccine was running low, and that Columbia Memorial had been asked to provide some of its stock.

"That's a good thing," she said of the shortage, after directing another volunteer via walkie-talkie to round up the extra vaccine. "We need to know, 'how do we deal with that?'"

There was no prior agreement with CMH staff to provide back-up supplies, but the hospital came through with the extra vaccine.

Things to improve onWithin an hour or two of the event's start Lalich said some areas of improvement had already been noticed, including better accommodations for those in wheelchairs. Organizers will also have to work on getting the word out about the shuttle service more readily.

The Camp Rilea exercise is believed to be the first such event in the state. Lalich said she's received calls from several other counties interested in the project - Douglas County was scheduled to hold its own flu-shot program today following the Camp Rilea model.

One participant, Joan Webb of Astoria, caught the bus at the downtown Senior Center. She and her husband didn't want to wait until next week to get their flu shots, so they headed to Camp Rilea. The bus was a little late, and there were some slow-ups in the registration process, but Webb said she understood and expected things would smooth out as the event went on.

"It's their first time," she said. "They're trying real hard."

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