U.S. holds pre-Olympics bio-planning exercise

U.S. federal, state and local authorities have finished a planning exercise to respond to a potential massive health disaster in British Columbia during the 2010 Winter Games.

"Nothing indicates to us at this time that we should be concerned about any significant disease outbreak, or anything of that nature," an emergency-response specialist for Whatcom County, just south of British Columbia, told CTVOlympics.com "But the reality is, there will be a lot of people there. There will be a lot of food venues. Our responsibility is to prepare for the full spectrum of things that could occur, from a small outbreak of a day-to-day disease to anthrax."

The exercise, called Infection Detection, centered on Americans that arrived at the border, informing agents that they had suddenly been hit by symptoms of an illness that they could not explain. All of the victims had the common characteristic that they had been at the Olympics.

As more and more mock patients arrived at the border, agents put on white masks and gloves to deal with citizens complaining of respiratory problems, diarrhea and nausea. A makeshift triage center was also erected in a nearby parking area.

At the triage center, staff questioning the citizens further before, theoretically, sending them to the appropriate professionals for further care.

The exercise revealed that border agents are in need of more resources, which would allow them to escort sick people to the triage screening center. Relying on those who are sick to remember directions and drive themselves, it was revealed, did not work.

Another lesson learned was that medical staff need to implement a better balance of treatment for symptoms with investigations into the origins of the problem, working to quickly identify those most in need of critical care and then figuring out what the source of the affliction is.