Hawaii prepares for major influenza pandemic

By Roger Mari - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - It's an emergency response exercise to prepare for a pandemic, influenza or other viral outbreaks.

The drill, called "Exercise Lightning Rescue 08" involves 40 organizations, units, and inter-agency partners.

Gates 33-and-34 at the Honolulu International Airport was the site of the exercise. The simulated scenario involves a commercial aircraft arriving from a foreign nation, with the passengers infected by avian flu.

"Within two hours we will have what you see here now, a full response with all our equipment, capable of sustaining a care for up to 5 days," said Toby Clairmont of The Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

After determining which patients are sick, they're then placed in quarantine and treated right at the gate. It's not only an exercise in medical procedures, but also a lesson in how to work efficiently as a team.

"It's a very good way to find out that gaps or anything that might take place that might be an issue you can improve upon in the event of a real emergency," said Jim Kosciuk of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

It's as close to a real emergency situation as you can get.

"This is very realistic. The confusion, the questions of the passengers, the scenario, the little vinets that they have the dogs that they bring with them the service animals," said Clairmont.

Located in the middle of the pacific, Hawaii can't afford to be unprepared should a flu pandemic breakout.

"We are an island state and we realize, if we can't do it ourselves, there's not going to be a lot of help coming from the mainland," said Clairmont.

It's one small state looking to play a big role in case of a major pandemic.

Honolulu International Airport is hosting the first part of "Exercise Lightning Rescue 08."

The teams will continue the exercise tomorrow on Kauai at barking sands and wrap up this Friday.