A county wide disaster drill over the weekend tested Mono County emergency response to a large earthquake. Wednesday, Inyo County officials tested their response to a county wide disaster. This time it was pandemic flu.
If a deadly flu broke out in the Eastern Sierra, the first place to see the rush of victims would be the hospitals. At Northern Inyo, county health and hospital staff set up a triage center outside of the hospital to sort the sick from the really sick. Volunteers with fake coughs lined up to be sorted out. They were given masks to avoid further spread of the fake flu. Staff then interviewed the patients to determine how bad off they were. Those that needed to be hospitalized were further sorted while others were given medical advice and sent home.
At the Bishop Airport, county staff set up an emergency operations center to coordinate the county response to the disaster. Health Department officials, fire officials, plus Sheriff and Police officers worked to get resources where they were needed. In this exercise, there was talk of closing the highway and even a quarantine for potentially infected guests at Scottys Castle.
This was a drill, but Inyo/Mono Health Officer Dr. Rick Johnson explained that unlike a fire or an earthquake, a pandemic flu could last six to eight weeks and then come in waves over the course of three years. Government resources will be stretched thin and people should be prepared to take care of themselves for at least seven days.
Dr. Johnson explained that besides stretching medical supplies, other services like gasoline and propane may run out as well.
If you are prepping up a home disaster kit with food, blankets and more, Dr. Johnson recommends throwing in a few surgical masks. These can be purchased at hardware stores. While they dont stop a person from inhaling the flu, the do help prevent you from spreading to someone else.
Another thing to add to the kit, if its not there already, is water-free alcohol-based hand sanitizer. This could come in handy for just about any emergency; but with pandemic flu, Dr. Johnson says the key to avoidance is hand washing, hand washing, hand washing.
Seasonal flu shots are tailored to the best guess on what the flu of the year will be, but there is evidence that the seasonal shot could help if an avian or other pandemic flu rolls in. By all means, get a flu shot, Dr. Johnson says.
A drill like this is designed to see how local government will respond to the chaos of a large disaster. With the case of pandemic flu, Dr. Johnson says that its not a matter of if, but when.