Ohio ARES Teams Lend Support to Hepatitis Vaccination Clinic
When news of a hepatitis A outbreak alarmed residents of West Chester, Ohio last month, local officials sprang into action to inoculate more than 1200 people who had eaten at a local fast food restaurant; an employee with a confirmed case of the virus worked at the restaurant in March may have contaminated ice and other food items, health officials said. Inundated with more people than expected, Butler County Health Department and Emergency Management officials were overwhelmed with traffic, communication problems and general logistics of the event. When a second hepatitis A vaccination clinic was scheduled for April 5, officials called on local Amateur Radio operators to assist with communications, as well as traffic and crowd control.
"After the first vaccination clinic was swamped with people coming to get their shots, both the Board of Health and the Emergency Management Agency in Butler County realized they needed assistance," said ARRL Ohio Section Emergency Coordinator Frank Piper, KI8GW. "They had the super idea of bringing in the local ARES group and called on District Emergency Coordinator Robert Spratt, N8TVU, to organize some hams to come help out."
According to Spratt, officials at the first clinic could not communicate on their cell phones due to lack of coverage in the area. "Officials had only planned for about 800 people to show up to get inoculated. When they had more than 1200 people show up, they tried using their cell phones to call and get more vaccine, but they just wouldn't work." Calls made to 911 for police back-up to deal with unruly persons also had trouble getting through, Piper said.
Ohio has a statewide, secure, reliable public service wireless communication for public safety and first responders in place -- MARCS -- used by Emergency Management officials in times when traditional communications systems fail. "When Butler County officials tried to use it at the first clinic, the system displayed 'OUT OF RANGE' or 'NO SIGNAL' messages on every channel," Piper said.
At the second clinic, eight hams from both Butler County and Hamilton County were on site and ready to assist. The clinic, located at a church, was scheduled to run from 10 AM-4 PM. The hams were ready for early crowds; at the first clinic, people were standing in line more than two hours before the doors opened.
"When the ARES team arrived, they established the parking lot area, the traffic flow patterns into and out of the church area and set up the required communications," Spratt said. "ARES members canvassing the complex discovered several other events were on going at the facility, including a funeral, fingerprinting for youth sports, a planning meeting for a summer carnival and a planning meeting for the upcoming soccer season. Soccer practice also added to the traffic and pedestrian congestion."
More than 225 people received hepatitis A vaccinations at the second clinic and directed more than 1200 cars around the property to their correct destinations on the property. The Butler County Health Department officials, clinic staff, the Butler County Emergency Management Agency, the West Chester Police Department and church officials thanked the ARES team for a job well done, all without any reported incidents. Spratt said that the Ohio District 4 ARES teams in Warren, Clermont, Hamilton and Butler counties have had prior Volunteer Reception Center and vaccination clinic operation training that "helped greatly in understanding and knowing what would be needed in the way of communications at the clinic, as well as security, traffic control and crowd control."
Spratt said that people coming to get inoculations "asked about who we were and who we were working for. We made some new friends in the community and recruited three or four people for the upcoming Technician classes. They thought what we were doing as volunteers was great and they want to become part of the team."
Piper concurred with Spratt. "In the Ohio Section, we have the Ohio Section Emergency Response Plan (OSERP). This is a small document compared to some ERPs I have seen. This document outlines how ARES is activated in the Section, who reports to whom and how communication flows. DEC Spratt and his team followed the OSERP pretty much to the letter, and it worked well. Many ARES districts have participated with their Regional Medical Response Systems in their assigned districts on tabletop exercises, as well as actual call-up drills. In February, District 3, under the command of ADEC Fred Stone, W8LLY, conducted a Pandemic Flu activation that extended over several days in February, including a real-time snow storm which affected the drill. This vaccination clinic this past weekend proves to all of us that ARES is vital to the emergency medical community."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, hepatitis A is a viral infection that attacks the liver and is spread primarily by close person-to-person contact or by consuming contaminated food.