Imagine the following scenario:
About 100 inmates at five Anderson County prisons have taken ill, showing symptoms of fever, chills, malaise, headache, dry cough and sore throat. A local nursing home also reports about one-fourth of its 40 patients displaying the same symptoms.
The next day, the number of sick inmates has more than doubled to 250, with reports of overwhelmed infirmaries and six inmates found dead in a prison cell. The same nursing home reports finding nine patients deceased at morning shift change.
That was the situation presented to Emergency Response Teams in Palestine and Anderson County, as well as outlying areas in East Texas, during a mock disaster drill that took place Friday at the Anderson County Courthouse Annex.
The facility was transformed from its usual courtroom trials and conducting of county business to a center for disaster — workers trying to get a handle on a fictional pandemic involving the spread of the Influenza H7N9 virus.
The main room of the courthouse became operation headquarters, with the county judge courtroom becoming a meeting room for leadership and another courtroom serving as a press area.
“This started in October as a regional exercise hosted by the City of Palestine,” Palestine Emergency Management Coordinator Schelby Wells said Thursday. “During the planning stages, it was decided that the drill would revolve around a pandemic situation.
"This is very different than any other drill the county and city has ever done,” Wells said. “And it is the first time we have done something like this involving partnerships with state health organizations. We have a lot of partners.”
A majority of the activities took place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday at the Annex, with briefings, a press conference with representatives of the Palestine Herald-Press and radio station KYYK in Palestine, exercises and meetings.