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Operation Mataala will test territory’s plan for distributing emergency meds

The Department of Health is spearheading an exercise that will test the territory's first comprehensive plan for using ASG personnel to distribute preventive medication and emergency medicine. Entitled "Operation Mataala" the exercise will test the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) Plan for requesting medical countermeasures and for delivering emergency medicine to the public.


Members of the public are reminded the three-day event — this week Wednesday, Thursday and Friday —  is ONLY AN EXERCISE and there is no need to panic.


Exercise director and DOH training manager Ben Sili told Samoa News yesterday that in order for federal assistance to be requested during infectious outbreaks — whether manmade or natural — a plan has to be in place.


The three-day event will kick off tomorrow with a tabletop exercise — which is for the “request” portion. At that time, the simulation will begin with news that an outbreak has been discovered and DOH had been made aware. The governor will then be briefed by the Director of Health before a state of emergency is declared. "This then warrants activation," Sili explained.


On Thursday, the exercise will focus on the receiving portion, at which time a 747 will land at the Tafuna Airport carrying medications being escorted by the US Marshal Service (US Marshals arrived in the territory last night to take part in the upcoming exercise). Once the 747 lands on Thursday, the medication will be escorted by local law enforcement officers to a local warehouse where distribution will take place.


Sili explained that the venues for Thursday's exercise will be Tafuna High School gymnasium and LBJ Hospital.


For the exercise, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention have provided simulated medications.


On Friday, which is the final day of the exercise, activities will move from the RSS (receiving, staging, storage) portion to the PODs (points of distribution) which include all the local health centers and the LBJ Hospital. For the exercise, the two PODs that will be used on Friday are the Lee Auditorium and the LBJ Hospital.


The Exercise director and DOH training manager said the exercise is to test the activation of plans using government channels. He said the event will cover everything from the receipt of medical countermeasures and the length of time it will take to get everything squared away, whether it be 12 hours or 24 hours, "depending on how serious the outbreak is."


"We basically want to see how fast we can push people through the PODs, including the number of people served per hour," Sili added.


He said that because we are prone to pandemic influenza, that is the outbreak they will be using for the exercise. "We are basically going to pretend we know there is an outbreak in the US so we can be fully prepared and take action," he explained.


According to Sili, this is the first times an SNS exercise like this will be carried out by the local DOH, and the event is a big deal, as three representatives from the CDC are on island to validate the exercise.


In addition, representatives from other US territories including Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of Marshall Islands will also be participating.


The Exercise’s director said all US Pacific island jurisdictions have to conduct a full scale exercise like Operation Mataala within a five-year time period and American Samoa will be the third territory to complete one.


"The federal government focuses a lot on emergency preparedness and that is why this exercise is very important," Sili said.


According to their public announcement, the DOH acknowledges that at any given point in time, the odds are against the outbreak of a life-threatening infectious disease. But they also warn that if we ever faced an emergency requiring rapid distribution of preventive medicine to the public - and we weren’t ready - the consequences could be devastating.


In addition to the DOH, partners and collaborators for Operation Mataala include the LBJ Medical Center, DOE, Port Administration, EMS, the Department of Homeland Security, and DPS. Also participating are the CDC, Human and Health Services (HHS), Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and the local “MRC” — a non-profit organization whose members volunteer in all areas during emergencies and disasters.