WV This Is A Test

Preparing for Radiation Emergencies – How West Virginia Prepares

Oct 13, 2023 | Beth Hess

While the Monongalia County Health Department in West Virginia does not have a nuclear powerplant in its community, the region has a long-running collaboration and history around preparing for a radiation emergency. Since at least 2015, it has done discussion-based and operations-based types of exercises to test their Radiation and Community Reception (CRC) response plans. Eight people at the health department currently have training at various levels in radiation response.

“We have been investing in radiation preparedness in North and South regions of the state and creating radiation response teams,” said Jamie Moore, Threat Preparedness Program Manager at the Monongalia County Health Department. “We’re building capacity and capability to respond.”

This year the region added a new exercise to its preparedness regime while also reinforcing relationships built during COVID-19 response, including those between the local health department and hospital.

Regional partner Elizabeth M. Garrasi, Director of Emergency Management at the J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, saw the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “This is a T.E.S.T” presented at a Radiation Injury Treatment Network (RITN) workshop. Garrasi thought This is a T.E.S.T would be a perfect way to bring partners together and to meet their fiscal year 2022-2023 Healthcare Preparedness Program exercise requirement to use a radiation incident scenario. J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital is a flagship hospital of the West Virginia University Health System, and part of RITN, a national network of medical centers with expertise in the management of bone marrow failure that partners from other medical specialties to assist with managing acute radiation syndrome and its health-related consequence.

The exercise was presented as a half-day training with activities taking place in the morning and ending over lunch. Participants were presented with a response scenario of a dirty bomb released at a festival. As the region plays host to many festivals, this was a realistic scenario.

“This allowed us to practice a scenario that was realistic,” Moore. “It allowed us to visually see how a CRC would work and helped to really understand how the operation should work.”

About 60 people participated, broken into groupings of eight. Tables were assigned to create multi-disciplinary groups and to match participants with those they would be working with in a real-life event. Roles assigned within the game represented local health departments, hospitals, emergency management, volunteer management and responders.

Exercise partners included the Monongalia County Health Department, J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, those from other jurisdictions, CDC, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and NACCHO. NACCHO assisted in developing the exercise and situational manual exercise plans so both Monongalia County Health Department and J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital could meet fiscal year 2022-2023 Healthcare Preparedness and Public Health Preparedness programs exercise requirements.

FEMA built the exercise’s evaluation plan and served as evaluators. The CDC team included Lauren Finklea, a Health Scientist, acting team lead within the Division of State and Local Readiness (DSLR), and This is a T.E.S.T creator, helping with exercise facilitation.

“We were so excited for this opportunity to further pilot and refine TEST to ensure that it is useful for our state, local and hospital partners,” said Finklea. “I’m so honored that Elizabeth and Jamie were open to this new tool.”

“People loved the exercise,” said Garrasi. “It’s such a great way to learn. It’s fun, interactive, and everyone had to participate. In a traditional tabletop exercise, one or two people may dominate the conversation. This brings the concepts to life. Everyone got something out of it. They got the concept and now we can dig into planning and encourage follow up.”

“This collaborative game bridged the gap between discussion and operational exercises for CRCs using narrative-based problems to foster teamwork, discuss resource management, and aid in understanding specific roles and responsibilities during a radiation emergency,” said Garrasi.

Click here to learn more about This is a T.E.S.T. or contact Lauren Finklea, [email protected]

RITN click here to learn more bout RITN


About Beth Hess

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