CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA —
Members of the 628th Medical Group assisted U.S. Coast Guard Sector Charleston with a communicable disease exercise at the Federal Law Enforcement compound April 4.
The exercise was the first of its kind and tested communication procedures and the integration of federal, state, local and private industry partners while analyzing response capabilities if an infected person needed to be transported from a vessel, through the Port of Charleston, then to a hospital for medical treatment.
Communicable diseases are highly infectious and can cause serious illness or death, these diseases include Ebola, Zika, tuberculosis and the flu. For the scenario, the captain of a container ship reported two individuals displaying flu-like symptoms and requested medical assistance. Members of the Medical University of South Carolina donned personal protective equipment and boarded the ship to evacuate the patients.
“For communicable disease operations we have to rely on other organizations, at the local level with fire and emergency medical service and all the way up to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,” said Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Scaff, Coast Guard Sector Charleston chief of contingency planning and force readiness. “All of the agencies come together as a unified command to make decisions on how to manage a case like this.”
The CDC and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control also participated in the exercise. The 628th MDG assisted with planning and observed the exercise to see how the Coast Guard interacted with other agencies to respond to a real world scenario. Planning for the exercise began in November 2016.
“The more exercises we do together, the better we can respond as a team if a real world emergency happens,” said Wendy Piccirilli, 628th Medical Support Squadron medical emergency manager. “Outside agencies know what we bring from the federal side, whether it’s from the 628th Medical Group or Naval Health Clinic Charleston. The more you practice, the better you’re going to do in the real world.”
The 628th MDG and NHCC regularly work with Charleston and Berkeley County first responders. Charleston and Berkeley County EMS respond to medical emergencies on Joint Base Charleston. In turn, first responders from the counties rely on the 628th MDG and NHCC in case of large-scale medical emergencies.
“We’re constantly working with agencies like the fire department and EMS to build relationships with them,” said Piccirilli. “We want to positively influence the community and to show the Air Force is here to help in case something happens.”
Building strong relationships within the community helps all agencies involved with contingency plans and responses to real world emergencies.
“It's important for federal, state and local community stakeholders to exercise together to get a better understanding of each agency’s role during an event,” said Piccirilli. “By participating in joint exercises the 628th Medical Group has a better understanding of what each agency brings in terms of expertise, equipment and capabilities. Having this knowledge of local capabilities positively assimilates Joint Base Charleston into the community.”