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Andersen to exercise disease containment

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Miranda Moorer
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Recent events such as the anthrax attacks that struck the United States shortly after 9/11, the Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome that occurred in 2003, and Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing disaster response, have highlighted the need for the Department of Defense to be able to respond to natural disasters and acts of asymmetric warfare. 

As part of a March 2007 exercise, the 36th Wing added a looming avian flu outbreak scenario to the week's events, but as Col. Walter Cayce, 36th Medical Group commander, stated this week, that particular exercise was the first of a series of required exercises to improve Andersen's capabilities to effectively respond to a natural disaster.

While last year's exercise touched on the topic of pandemics and was required by Air Force Instruction 10-2603 Public Health Emergency Powers, an upcoming base-wide disease containment exercise will put more of the installation's people and resources to the test with a different, but equally serious, medical scenario. The upcoming exercise is a requirement of AFI 10-2604 Disease Containment and will test the base's ability to respond to either a natural occurring disease, or an act of asymmetric warfare, Colonel Cayce said.

The January 15th and 16th exercise will address not only medical response issues--such as identification and containment--but services issues, legal, security and public affairs issues. Successful response to such an event requires a coordinated response by the entire base in cooperation with community and national leaders.

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States experienced several anthrax attacks in the New York and Washington D.C. areas by an unknown suspect. Naturally, this caused the Department of Defense to rethink and reexamine its ability to respond to a new threat to America and our allies, asymmetric attacks whether by terrorists or an enemy state.

Bases' mandatory compliance with Air Force Instruction 10-2604, Disease Containment Planning Guidance, is one example of the Air Force's continued attempt to develop and increase response capabilities in the event of a biological attack.

"This [DCP exercise] is how we're responding to this doctrine," said Colonel Cayce, "the true test is in exercising these capabilities."

Historically, pandemics have been world-changing events, such as the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 that killed between 20 and 40 million people around the world. The hope is that with better preparation the United States will be able to mitigate the effects of such immense events as a natural pandemic or biologic attack. The DoD and USAF have a major role to play in making this happen.

While health and sanitation standards and vaccinations play a big role in the prevention of such outbreaks today, the possibility of unexpected pandemic diseases occurring naturally or as the result of a deliberate attack requires our personnel be aware of the risks and prepared to respond, said Colonel Cayce.

For now, the Air Force and Pacific Air Forces are ensuring that all bases begin exercising our ability to fully integrate the potential for medical and base plans for response to potential terrorist attacks.

Sometime in the future, Colonel Cayce anticipates the wing will conduct not just a base-wide but an island-wide DCP exercise. But for now, he said, it's important to test the elements and intra-base communication required for this unique threat.

While this exercise may sound like it's solely geared towards the emergency powers of medical personnel, Colonel Cayce emphasized that many agencies on base possess capabilities that are out of the scope of the Medical Group and will be expected to test them and generate ideas for improvement.

"This is going to be an exercise that includes a tremendous amount of learning. Although a unlikely event, I believe that if does happen we'll be better off for it because of what we've learned and what we've developed from the exercise next week," he said.

Andersen should expect to see and hear warning announcements for elements of the disease containment scenario marked "Exercise" through several means on the 15th and 16th, among them the base public address system, or "giant voice", emails and the commander's access channel.