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Drill Tests Emergency Response Capabilities

November 17, 2011
Man with students
University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy Dean John Vandel receives his gifts from student volunteers at Wednesday's Cowboy Ready drill. Student volunteers assisted nearly 250 "patients" during the exercise. (UW Photo)

None of the nearly 250 people who passed through War Memorial Fieldhouse Wednesday afternoon exhibited the symptoms of anthrax infection -- difficulty breathing, severe chest discomfort, weakness, chills and a high fever.

But they came anyway, and their participation in the first "Cowboy Ready" drill tested the ability of the University of Wyoming and Albany County Public Health to respond to a real public health emergency.

Instead of receiving medication to treat anthrax, the UW student, faculty and staff participants received T-shirts as gifts of appreciation for playing the role of patients in the "point of dispensing" exercise. Organizers said they were pleased with the response and happy with what they saw.

"My initial thoughts are that it worked very well," says Nancy Fox, director of UW's Environmental Health and Safety Department (EHS). "We were able to set up a POD and handle more than 200 patients from campus. In a real emergency we would need more volunteers, but this is exactly what we would have to do."

UW and Albany County Public Health officials identified the fieldhouse as the preferred on-campus site to distribute emergency countermeasures in the event of a public health emergency. Wednesday's drill was intended to help health officials and UW test, improve and communicate their plans before a real disaster happens.

The drill also served as a learning experience for students in UW's College of Health Sciences. Close to 40 student volunteers served as the staff for the exercise, working in roles ranging from greeting "patients" to helping determine what type of medication they would receive.

"I thought it would be a good way to volunteer," says Catherine Scalley, a first-year pharmacy student from Fort Collins, Colo. "It was a good way to get involved in the area of public health as well."

In connection with the exercise, the pharmacy students learned how to manage mass distribution of medications. In the event of an anthrax outbreak, four different types of antibiotics would have been made available, depending upon the condition and medical histories of the patients.

"Now, in case something bad actually happens, we won't be running around like chickens with their heads cut off," says Ryan Randall, a second-year pharmacy student from Jackson.

Also volunteering as staff for the exercise were students from teacher Kate Steiner's doctoral counseling class and members of the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming. Several campus entities helped organize the event, including Athletics, Student Health, the School of Pharmacy, the Dean of Students Office, ASUW, Institutional Communications, the Division of Administration and EHS.

Beth Young of Albany County Public Health was delighted with the exercise.

"The most important thing is that UW was able to do it on its own with students, faculty and staff," she says. "Albany County Public Health is sincerely appreciative of UW for hosting such a robust and realistic exercise."

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