For Immediate Release
Contact: Mary Kersell
(413) 529-1443

April 5, 2007

Communications are vital in emergencies:
towns are preparing – so should families

AMHERST, Mass. – Western Massachusetts public health officials and hundreds of volunteers are taking part in a drill on Thursday, April 12 from 9 a.m. – noon, to assess the area’s readiness to respond to a public health emergency. The event, simulating a large-scale bacterial meningitis outbreak, is the largest and first of its kind in Massachusetts.

The drill will assess the regional public health emergency communications system and analyze the effectiveness of Emergency Dispensing Site (EDS) operations. Participants include 98 local boards of health, 13 Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units, 16 area hospitals, 98 emergency management directors and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH).

“The local public health and medical community is the backbone of our response to a public health emergency,” said MDPH Commissioner John Auerbach. “Drills like this are enormously helpful in preparing us to coordinate our work to respond to real emergencies, and I applaud everyone involved in this effort.”

Much of the activity is occurring at a simulated EDS located inside UMass Amherst’s Mullins Center. Members of the UMass Amherst MRC, the state’s only university-based unit, will join other MRC units in administering mock immunizations against meningitis. Meningitis is a potentially fatal infection of the fluid around the brain and spinal cord. Anyone can get the disease, but living closely in dormitories makes college students particularly susceptible. In 2005, Massachusetts began a statewide effort to educate and vaccinate college students against meningitis before they come to campus; however, many are not fully protected and would require emergency vaccination during an outbreak.

“While we expect to learn a lot about the current communications networks for public health in Western Mass., we also feel strongly that this drill be an educational experience for the community as a whole,” said Lisa Stone, M.D., M.P.H., Acting Director of the MDPH’s Office of Emergency Preparedness. “Not only are we ensuring that Boards of Health and their partners know how to respond to a region-wide alert, we’re also educating the public about their personal emergency preparedness needs,” Dr. Stone emphasized. Information, including a family disaster plan checklist, is available online at

The drill is sponsored by the four Western Massachusetts Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coalitions, in cooperation with the MDPH’s Western office, and is funded in part by grants from the Western Homeland Security Advisory Council and the MDPH.

The MRC mission is to establish teams of local volunteer medical and public health professionals who can contribute their skills and expertise throughout the year and during times of community need. The program also utilizes an array of volunteers outside of the medical profession, from drivers to administrative managers. To learn more, visit the MRC website,

For information about April 12 drill activities taking place in your community please contact:

• UMass Amherst: Ann Becker, R.N., (413) 577-5193
• Berkshire County: Amy Carey, (413) 441-9060
• Franklin County: Ben Wood, (413) 774-3167
• Hampden County: Helen R. Caulton-Harris, (413) 787-6456 or Tom FitzGerald,
(413) 569-1212
• Hampshire County: Mary Kersell, (413) 529-1443
• Western Massachusetts Medical Reserve Corps: