Have you ever attended a school disaster preparedness “table top" exercise? I was invited to attend a one-of-a-kind Whatcom County Public Schools & Public Health tabletop exercise series. This unique series consisted of 3 different public health scenarios hosted by rotating Whatcom County school districts during the 2017-18 school year and was facilitated by Mark Raaka, MS, EMT-P, Whatcom County Health Department Emergency Response and Preparedness.
These are not your ordinary table tops. Hepatitis A school exposure and Mercury poisoning were considered rather than earthquakes and floods. According to Mark Raaka, this opportunity for collaboration was based on:
- School nurses expressing a need to have more “typical” scenarios in tabletop exercises;
- School districts having an interest in what other districts are doing in similar events; and,
- Whatcom County Public Health Department wanting to increase school staff preparedness, training,and external stakeholder engagement.
The main goal of this two-year series is to increase collaboration between school districts, public health, fire, emergency medical responders (EMS), hospital, law enforcement, emergency management and community partners. Through this teamwork, districts can test their emergency operations plan, response, evacuation, and reunification procedures. They gain a better understanding of their local capacity to troubleshoot and manage a realistic public health scenario, identify potential gaps, and improve inter-district coordination and readiness prior to a crisis.
I spoke with many of the attendees and was pleased to see a wide range of school staff represented. Administrative office staff, nurses, superintendents, principals, transportation and facilities staff, communication and HR staff, EMS, local fire and police, Whatcom County Public Health staff, and NWESD School Nurse Corps nurses participated.
I learned that this tabletop series was presented in April, 2018 at the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) 2018 Preparedness Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. It featured Whatcom County’s cross-jurisdictional approach to preparedness among neighboring districts and public health departments. Way to go Whatcom County!
A quote from one of the participants sums it up nicely. “The Whatcom County Public Schools & Public Health tabletop exercise series has been a great opportunity to collaborate with community partners in developing a unified, comprehensive response to a public health disaster. This series is unique. It addresses non-traditional scenarios related to school health while applying the use of existing school emergency and safety plan frameworks for continued planning and practice.”
This series will continue for one more year. I am looking forward to attending and wonder what public health emergency is lurking for next year’s scenarios!