SOMERVILLE, Mass. -- In the event of a medical emergency, it would appear that the city of Somerville is in good hands. On July 26, the city conducted a drill at the Winter Hill Community School to test their emergency response to a major medical crisis, billing it to the public as a free vaccination clinic, in which tetanus and pneumonia shots were dispensed free of charge.
In the event of a medical emergency, it would appear that the city of Somerville is in good hands. On July 26, the city conducted a drill at the Winter Hill Community School to test their emergency response to a major medical crisis, billing it to the public as a free vaccination clinic, in which tetanus and pneumonia shots were dispensed free of charge.
The drill functioned like a well-oiled machine after more than three months of planning, and more than 100 members of the Somerville community took advantage of the free vaccinations at the event.
The clinic was equipped to dispense 200 vaccinations, far fewer than would be necessary in the event of an emergency. The scale of the event was not a question. Rather, the several organizations on the local and federal level involved in Friday’s drill used the event to test the system’s readiness.
Tom Graney, Somerville’s Homeland Security Coordinator, said that this was the first drill of its kind using new protocols created by Homeland Security. Previous emergency plans had Somerville residents heading to Boston in the event of a pandemic, he said, but Somerville has “to have our own stuff” in the event of an emergency.
“This is a large drill,” he said. “There are a lot of people involved. All the needed people are here, so they can get experience and see how the whole show goes.” Success of the drill depended on several town organizations working together, and the organizers viewed it as a success across the board.
“Certainly there’s going to be a lot of ongoing cooperation with public health issues.”
With more than 50 staff members at the event, including members from Somerville’s Board of Health, members of the regional Medical Reserve Corp, and Somerville Police and Fire, Friday’s clinic was not only a golden opportunity for community outreach, but also a way for Somerville’s infrastructure to test its readiness in the event of a major event.
Midway through Mayor Joseph Curtatone walked in. His spokesperson, Thomas Champion, suggested that he get in line for a vaccination. He lined up, but was turned away during the screening process. Why? Too healthy. His shots were up to date.
“It all comes down to being prepared for the worst case scenario,” he said. “Our health department along with all our first responders have done a fine job in utilizing Homeland Security’s resources and all our resources available to us to make sure that in an event, or any kind of outbreak or disaster, homeland security situation, we’re really well prepared to respond.”
“It doesn’t matter whether we think it’s likely or not, or realistic or not, but we have to be prepared for the worst case scenario,” he said.
Champion noted that one aspect of the drill was about outreaching to the community. “Depending on the nature of the emergency,” he said, “different populations are vulnerable.” When it comes to tetanus and pneumonia, the most vulnerable populations are the elderly or “people who work outdoors, essentially in the dirt.”
“One of the things that was important here was to do outreach into the immigrant community, since so many of the immigrants in the city are working outdoor jobs,” he said, “to make sure that those populations were told of the availability of this free vaccine.” In the event of a real disaster, all communities would need to be notified.
But Somerville’s Board of Health has always been very active providing these types of services to the community, Champion said.
Health Department Director Noreen Burke said that in the event of a real emergency, the city of Somerville would not only be in the hands of sixty volunteers. The Medical Reserve Corp, the regional organization of medical and non-medical members largely responsible for the drill’s infrastructure and success, is over 2000 strong in Somerville’s region, 4B, she said.
At the drill, “most of the people here are the staff of the health department, board of health members, city volunteers and Region 4B staff,” she said.
The Medical Reserve Corp is a creation of our post-9/11 world, she said.
“It’s kind of this whole movement, because so many people showed up, at ground Zero, without credentials or without identification. Nobody knew they were nurses, or non-medical, or what they could do, so it’s this whole notion about training and professionalizing the volunteer corps,” she said.
She said that the aim of the event was to practice the protocols in the event of an emergency, “whether it’s a measles outbreak, a food-borne illness situation, whether it’s a small, medium or large emergency. If you’re practicing them all the time you’re able to scale up with more ease than if you’re just trying to superimpose something whenever an emergency occurs.”
Mike Coffey, medical officer of the drill and Somerville doctor, said that “the main thing is that, having done this, we’ll be better prepared if there ever is some sort of, either outbreak or act in Somerville. We’ll be able to deal with an event where the health of the public has to come to a specific site to either receive medication or vaccinations.”
There are a lot of logistics involved, he said, and having been through it the volunteers will be better equipped for future events. The drill also helps Somerville provide for its citizens, he said. “If there is something that happens here, we want them to get to someplace as easily as possible. So each city is really tasked with trying to prepare to be able to meet the needs of their citizens.”
The city “needs to be prepared to take care of its own. That’s what we’re doing here.”