JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - It's a scenario that seems to be all too
possible after 9/11: area hospitals and clinics treat a large
number of patients suffering from flu-like symptoms in one day.
Most are children and 15 are diagnosed with chicken pox.
Carrying the plot forward, Salena Greenlee, coordinating nurse
for the Warren County Department of Health, receives reports from
hospitals about a possible outbreak of smallpox. Samples are sent
to the Centers for Disease Control for testing, a key in
determining whether a bioterrorism threat exists.
In recent weeks, state agencies have acted out these steps
toward bioterrorism detection as part of a drill repeated across
Mississippi. In Jackson, about 100 state, county and local health,
law enforcement, fire and public officials attended the latest
bioterrorism workshop.
Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Centers for
Disease Control also participated in last week's Mississippi
Emergency Management Agency workshop.
"It's a community effort among agencies to come up with a
master plan to work quickly and accurately with the resources that
are available," Greenlee said.
Greenlee went over a pamphlet describing smallpox symptoms with
a Vicksburg firefighter at the Warren County table.
She discussed some of the disease's identifiers that doctors
would look for. She said smallpox symptoms break out suddenly,
while chicken pox develops more slowly; Adult patients raise
suspicion. The number of cases is another cause for concern. "We
just don't have that many chicken pox cases," she said.
"This is an exercise to challenge officials," said Robert
Latham, executive director of MEMA. "We'll throw them curves,
challenge them ... they'll see how quickly their resources will be
Local officials will be the first line of defense in any form of
terrorist attack, he said. The first step will be to set up a
central line of communication, so information can flow freely
within and between agencies.
Dr. Risa Webb, an infectious disease medical consultant for the
state Department of Health, said health officials deal with
possible epidemics on a daily basis.
"The most important thing for counties to learn is who they are
going to be dealing with on bioterrorism," she said.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove signed an executive order Oct. 16, 2001,
establishing the Incident Command System as the state's official
response plan.
Musgrove said Mississippi was one of the first states to enact
such a system.
The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington "changed the
way we do things in Mississippi and in America," Musgrove said.
"We are ready for anything that comes our way."
The workshop's goal was to get agencies acclimated the new
system which gives agencies one central voice and allows them to
work together when responding to emergencies, said MEMA spokeswoman
Amy Carruth.
"We want to get beyond turf battles and work together,"
Carruth said. "One voice in the county talks to MEMA. MEMA, in
turn talks to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)"
MEMA evaluates each county's response and identifies strengths
and weaknesses so officials can address problem areas before a
disaster actually occurs, she said.
By December, 10 such exercises will have been held around the
Latham said MEMA also plans emergency management workshops on
the county level and will do follow up regional exercises in about
a year to "test what progress we've made."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)