Operation Magnolia Blossom 2013 – Responding to Disaster
Picture tranquil southern Mississippi rocked by a mass-casualty biological and radiological disaster. The Mississippi Emergency Operations Center begins receiving reports of an Anthrax release in greater New Orleans. Almost immediately, patients with anthrax exposure begin showing up in the southern Mississippi healthcare system. It quickly becomes apparent that the health care systems will become overwhelmed and patients will have to be moved into the Jackson area. Compounding the disaster, new reports indicate that a train moving patients from southern Mississippi to Jackson has collided with a vehicle carrying a radioactive isotope. The worst fears of the response community have been realized.
A response to this series of events would test Emergency Operations Center management, onsite incident management, medical supplies management and distribution, mass prophylaxis, medical surge, volunteer and donations management, WMD/HazMat response and decontamination, and the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) detection capabilities of southern and central Mississippi. A coordinated, multi-agency, state-wide response would be required. Would they be ready? Could they respond effectively? Fortunately, this scenario was only an exercise – this time.
Magnolia Blossom 2013 was the culmination of a six month planning process to conduct a state-level full scale exercise to test the ability of the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) and its ESF-8 response partners to respond to a large-scale event. The exercise was designed to test a number of functions to aid the MSDH and partners in fulfilling various PHEP and HPP grant requirements in addition to providing an opportunity to practice a realistic coordinated response.
The exercise planning team was composed of numerous and diverse agencies, including the Mississippi State Department of Health, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the South Central Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center (SCPERLC) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Public Health (SOPH), the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, and others state, local and federal partners including Keesler Air Force Base and the 47th Civil Support Team.
The SCPERLC assisted the MSDH Magnolia Blossom 2013 Exercise Planning Team with all aspects of the developing and planning the exercise including creating all HSEEP compliant documentation: the MSDH Agency Specific Exercise Plan (ExPlan), Controller/Evaluator (C/E) Handbook and Evaluation Plan, Master Scenario Events List (MSEL) injects and Exercise Evaluation Guides (EEGs). SCPERLC participants met with MSDH and partners to plan each agency’s scope of play and collect information necessary for completing the ExPlan. SCPERLC assisted MSDH in developing overall SMART exercise objectives as well as function-specific objectives, which were then used to develop a trigger list and walk MSDH through the process of creating injects for exercise play using the national template. Finally, the SCPERLC produced key documents related to the evaluation of the exercise including those to test specific performance measures for the RSS site and POD operations.
The multi-day exercise was a successful demonstration of the MSDH and other ESF-8 partner’s ability to respond to a biological/radiological event; the lessons learned will further strengthen Mississippi’s response capabilities. Further, the exercise provided an opportunity to test new and updated plans and numerous functions under a single scenario, train new staff, identify strengths and areas for improvement, and to inform future training needs.