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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Campus, local communities encouraged to participate in mock emergency response clinic April 2

Media Contact: Wendy Roworth, 401-874-2773

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 25, 2004 -- The campus community has an opportunity to help the University of Rhode Island prepare for an act of bioterrorism by participating in a mock emergency response clinic on Friday, April 2 at Keaney Gym.

Organizers of the mock drug distribution clinic are encouraging students, and those faculty and/or staff members with time in their schedules to volunteer as "patients" to receive simulated medication between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. All patient volunteers have to do is walk in the entrance to Keaney Gym to participate.

Thomas Mather, URI professor of entomology and director of the Center for Vector Borne Disease, is heading the clinic team, and said each patient should be able to proceed through the clinic in no more than 15 minutes.

"Imagine if there were a terrorist act and a biological agent were released," Mather said. "What would we do? We all hear the term homeland security, but this clinic allows us to put a face on it and take some action," Mather said. "How will we know if our preparedness actions will protect us if we don’t practice? This exercise also allows us to begin developing a bioterrorism-informed citizenry."

Mather emphasized that there is no immediate terrorism threat, but it is in the communities’ best interest to be ready.

Mather said students, faculty and staff who participate will become a resource to the University and other communities in the event of an attack. For instance, he said, the more than 100 URI nursing students who are volunteering to help run the clinic will bring important skills to the hospitals, clinics and agencies where they will eventually work and to the communities in which they will settle.

For the students and others who volunteer as patients, they will gain a common-sense understanding of how such a clinic would operate in an emergency and would be better prepared to make informed decisions.

The University has been selected by the Rhode Island Department of Health to establish the clinic as part of a statewide push to prepare for a bioterrorism attack. A wide range of representatives from various campus departments has been meeting since the fall to organize the clinic.

Every municipality in the state is being requested to develop such a drug dispensing response plan in the name of Homeland Security. URI’s role is twofold—to test a site and then using that knowledge, teach volunteers in other towns and at other colleges to run their own operations. The clinic exercise will be in response to a simulated scenario of an intentional release of a disease agent. Observers from Brown University, Rhode Island College and the Rhode Island School of Design have been attending the planning meetings and will be on hand the day of the exercise.

The drill is intended to simulate an actual medical response to what would likely be waves of increasing numbers of people needing medications to combat the agent. The goal is to provide up to 1,000 individuals with medication during the clinic.

"This could be one of the few exercises of its size in the country and certainly in the Northeast," Mather said.

"We would be one of the few universities in the country to conduct an exercise of this magnitude," said Nancy Doyle-Moss, URI clinical nursing instructor and logistics coordinator for the exercise.

Students who volunteer will be eligible for a URI Bookstore gift bag raffle, free samples donated by CVS Pharmacy and candy "medication." All will learn about how a mass drug distribution clinic works, and how to fill out a health evaluation form. Patient volunteers will also participate in a health education center and receive information on the drugs used to combat a specific biologic agent.

Doyle-Moss has organized volunteers to staff three separate shifts. Throughout each shift, representatives from Campus Police and Security, Health Services, Safety and Risk Management, the Colleges of Pharmacy, Nursing and Environment and Life Sciences, Athletics and the Department of Communications/News Bureau will work the clinic.

The health department, which has participated in all planning meetings, is providing an evaluation team and other support. It is helping to support the exercise using bioterrorism and emergency preparedness money from the federal government.