June 01, 2001


 Tabletop FMD exercise brings US a step closer to preparedness

Posted May 15, 2001

At the request of the USDA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency called an April 11 meeting of the Catastrophic Disaster Response Group. The CDRG represents the agencies that are a part of the Federal Response Plan, which respond during times of natural disasters. The meeting was organized as an orientational, tabletop exercise prompting 26 government agencies to inventory their resources, and make them aware of what the United States would have to do to contain foot-and-mouth disease, should it hit here.

Representatives attended from such agencies as the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Interior, Energy, Transportation, and Health and Human Services; CIA; National Guard; United States Geological Survey; and the FEMA.

The exercise was a follow-up to a smaller, earlier Catastrophic Disaster Response Group meeting, where the USDA presented a briefing on FMD and highlighted some anticipated needs that might be fulfilled by other federal agencies. The April 11 exercise was simply a larger-scale version of that meeting, whereafter the government agencies were charged with writing up the resources their respective agencies could bring to bear in the event of an FMD outbreak in the United States.

Dr. Annelli: "I think there's always a risk that FMD will be introduced to the United States. But we have had mechanisms in place for many years to have, so far, prevented it for the last 70 years.

At the meeting, the computer-generated exercise planted FMD in Iowa. The computer model was set to demonstrate a potential situation 60 days, the simulated amount of time the computer program ran over the four-hour exercise, after the initial discovery. The model demonstrated that the disease spread to three states, requiring 50,000 people to contain it. The exercise confirmed that the disease could spread like wildfire without the cooperation of the entire government working to contain it.

But that was how the exercise was programmed to respond. Dr. Joe Annelli, chief of Emergency Programs for the USDA-APHIS, said the computer model perimeters were set at certain control monitors for a reason.

"We wanted to give the group a sense of magnitude," Dr. Annelli said. "The scenario did exactly what we told the scenario to do. We intended to have the FMD model get large enough to challenge the participants to think about the different resources that would be necessary. We could have written the scenario to contain the disease to the first farm, which wouldn't have been very interesting, or accurate."

Plans to combat a United States FMD outbreak have been in place for years. And, although this April 11 meeting was a first for many of the government agencies, many have always had plans in place for animal disease and disaster emergencies.

The USDA is confident that it has the complete support of the agencies. "What was amazing is that all these government agencies already have emergency disaster plans in place should we need them for help," said Dr. Mark Teachman, senior staff veterinarian with APHIS Emergency Programs. "The agencies are set up to support a large number of people in an emergency situation, including access to food, where they're going to stay, how they're going to communicate with each other, and medical services. All of this is built into the agencies' already existing emergency plans."

The FMD outbreak in the United Kingdom has given the United States what Dr. Annelli calls a "teachable moment." "The organizations now have a greater understanding of what their needs and role would be if FMD came to the United States," he said.

The next step by FEMA and the USDA is to examine the agencies' report of the exercise and discuss more details about what resources are at the United States disposal.

As for reports saying an outbreak is near or inevitable, Dr. Annelli said, "I think there's always a risk that FMD will be introduced into the United States. But we have had mechanisms in place for many years that have, so far, prevented it for the last 70 years."