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This is only a drill!

MURFREESBORO – Each of the several vehicles that passed through the maze of orange cones at Hertford County Middle School held a different scenario for law enforcement officers directing traffic.

One vehicle held a pregnant woman experiencing chest pain and another had an agitated driver at the wheel while a flat tire plagued yet another vehicle.

To make things worse, a county-wide pandemic was occurring forcing the entire population onto the roads to seek out the nearest POD (Place of Dispersion) to receive medication.

Looks bad, however, this was only a drill.

Last week, the Hertford County Public Health Authority (HCPHA) conducted an Emergency Preparedness Transportation Drill in collaboration with several other agencies, including the Highway Patrol, Hertford County Sheriff’s Office, Hertford County EMS and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

According to Health Director Curtis Dickson, this drill, where entities practiced managing the flow of traffic during a disease outbreak or disaster, was the first of three that will take place over the next few months.

The next two will prepare agencies how to operate when 40 percent of their staff is out due to flu pandemic and a communication exercise, in which the agencies will practice how get information to the public.

The three exercises will combine in a full scale drill slated for 2009.

“We have staff members driving around, some are bringing handicapped passengers to load or unload,” said Dickson. “We have to be prepared for all different situations.”

Dickson said after the drill those involved gathered for a “hot wash” session where they were debriefed on how the exercise played out and what went right and wrong.

During the drill, Dickson stood among other officials, most with radio transceivers in hand acting as ICS (Incident Command System).

Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan was among those officials and told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald he was glad to see the drill moving along smoothly.

“You’re talking about the entire county, a little over 22,000 people,” he said. “Drills are definitely necessary. If you don’t prepare, when it does happen you won’t be able to handle it.”

HCPHA Public Information Officer Crystal Dempsey said the drill showed the true collaboration between all the agencies.

During the drill, one officer shouted at a driver in a vehicle that began to maneuver incorrectly around a check point. Dempsey stated the occurrence was probably one of the scenarios being played out.

Dempsey joked that staff members volunteering for the drill were told before hand not to get upset if officers were harsh with directions.

“They realize how important the different situations are,” said Dempsey about the staff members’ participation. “(It teaches them) to be aware and knowledgeable.”

While HCPHA Finance Officer Romona Bowser’s car radio came in handy while making laps around the drill course in her vehicle, she also realized the significance of the exercise.

“(It’s important) so everyone knows what to do and everyone can be taken care of,” she said.