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Day 2 of Operation Mataala — a success

Operation Mataala closes today with the distribution of medication at the Lee Auditorium and the LBJ Medical Center. The exercise, being led by the local Department of Health, is testing the territory's first comprehensive plan for using ASG personnel to distribute preventive and emergency meds during infectious outbreaks—whether manmade or natural.


The exercise is meant to test the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) Plan for requesting medical countermeasures and for delivering emergency medication to the public. Exercise director and DOH training manager Ben Sili told Samoa News in an initial interview that in order for federal assistance to be requested during infectious outbreaks, a plan has to be in place, hence the need for the exercise.


The three-day event kicked off on Wednesday with a tabletop discussion, which is the request portion. Day 2, which focused on the RSS (receiving, staging, storage) portion, took place yesterday at the Tafuna High School gym.


Samoa News should point out that although the exercise is a mock scenario, all the officials involved are not actors, including representatives from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, the US Marshall Service, military servicemen and women, local law enforcement officers, and local and federal employees. Those in the RSS and Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) group were all volunteers.


The day started off with the arrival of a shipment of medication (provided by the CDC) and escorted by a US Marshall. During the exercise, all the proper procedures and protocols were followed, including the clearing of the shipment through Customs officers. The shipment was then loaded on to a truck belonging to SOLAR Enterprises and delivered to the Tafuna HS gym via police escort. Once there, the medication was unloaded and color coded pallets were spread out to divide the shipment for distribution today to the POD (point of distribution) sites which include all the local health centers and the LBJ Hospital. For today's exercise, the two PODs that will be used are the Lee Auditorium and the LBJ Hospital.


Jim Schoonover, lead controller for the exercise and owner of CMK Homeland Security Solutions based out of Washington State, told Samoa News that he is quite pleased with the response and performance of everyone involved in the exercise. His subcontractor Maryann Patton described Operation Mataala as being "huge" and said it appears that a lot of time and effort went into preparing for the exercise, as everyone seemed comfortable with what they were doing and everyone took their role seriously.


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 are also participating.


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


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 face an emergency requiring rapid distribution of preventive medicine to the public—and we aren'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.


Members of the public are reminded that the three-day event is ONLY AN EXERCISE and there is no need to panic. Today's exercise will commence with registration at 7:30 a.m. and a special banquet is planned for later this evening at the Tradewinds Hotel.