About 3,000 public high school students in Mesa, Ariz., received inoculations last week as part of a large-scale bioterrorism-response drill.
The students, mostly 10th and 11th graders, were given tetanus shots, a required immunization for enrollment in the 74,000-student school district. Student had until Jan. 6, 2003, to get the inoculations.
The bioterrorism- response exercise—a high-profile joint effort in Mesa and Tucson by local, state, and federal officials—nicely dovetailed with the students’ need to get immunized for tetanus, said Judith Willis, the director of community relations for the Mesa school system, in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
“It will hopefully keep us from suspending a large amount of high school students, and we have an opportunity to be part of a community drill that we’ll learn from,” she said. “And if the real thing happens, we’ll be better able to take care of it.”
The three-day training exercise, which focused on how to respond to an anthrax attack by terrorists, mobilized a fleet of medical and emergency personnel, police and fire officials, and more than 1,000 volunteers who acted as potential anthrax victims. The drill also tested the process of distributing a 6-ton package of medications and equipment from one of 10 national pharmaceutical stockpiles.
Triage in the Gym
Observers from around the country watched the mock attack, including U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, a former Tucson trauma doctor. The drill was part of a bioterrorism conference sponsored by the Tucson Metropolitan Medical Response System, a coalition of local fire and law-enforcement agencies.
Most of the students, who had to file parental-consent forms before getting the tetanus shots, didn’t know the immunization effort was part of the bioterrorism drill, Ms. Willis said.
But one Mesa school, Westwood High, had a more direct role in the mock attack. The school gym was the site on Nov. 21 of a medical- and emergency-assessment clinic.
Doctors, nurses, paramedics, and others examined and “triaged” about 200 volunteers. Some received empty pill bottles meant to represent antibiotics such as Cipro and doxycycline, which are used in treating anthrax.
“Now that [the threat of] bioterrorism has been brought to light more than ever before,” said Mary Cameli, a deputy chief of the Mesa Fire Department, “we have to be more prepared.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 27, 2002 edition of Education Week as Arizona Schools Take Part in Bioterrorism Drill