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Ref: Resident response plan in Florida communities

Sun Sentinal

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Palm Beach County wants to recruit 6,000 for emergency force

By Sally J. Ling
Special Correspondent
Posted July 2 2007

Palm Beach County is looking for 6,000 men and women to become part of its trained volunteer force to assist in a public health emergency.The Cities Readiness Initiative is charged with getting ready for a countywide disaster, such as a bioterrorism attack or widespread outbreak of the bird flu, according to Dianne Laubert, senior director of communications for the United Way of Palm Beach County.

"Our role is to help recruit and train needed volunteers should a situation occur in our community. Just like when the hurricane comes through, we set up a volunteer reception center, and that's where all the volunteers come," she said.

Volunteers will be considered first responders, and they and their families will receive priority medical treatment so they are able to help others. They will serve in three- to four-day shifts in positions such as greeters, interviewers, crowd control, volunteer training, communications, staging and supply logistics.

For those with medical experience, volunteers will be needed in triage and medical screenings, Laubert said.

People interested in volunteering must speak English, be at least age 18 and will need to pre-register through the United Way's Volunteer Program. People who speak Spanish, Portuguese or Creole also are needed, Laubert said.

Tim O'Connor, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department, said his agency will have the lead role in a disaster.

"Our organization has been charged with dispensing medication or medical treatment to 1.3 million in Palm Beach County within 48 hours of the emergency," he said.

Some 45 distribution centers must be in place 24 hours before opening to the public and are expected to dispense antibiotics or medical treatment to 600 people an hour within 48 hours, O'Connor said.

Glenn Joseph, deputy fire chief for Boca Raton, said at a recent meeting that his department had been told the county was developing a common set of initiatives and priorities to determine who's doing what, but that no assignments had been made.

"The requirement comes from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] in Atlanta," said Al Grasso, public health preparedness coordinator for the Palm Beach County Health Department. "They identified large metropolitan areas throughout the country that are most susceptible to biological attacks. Miami was the first one identified, then Broward, and then Palm Beach."

The initiative began after the 2001 anthrax scare, when it became necessary to put together a plan to distribute medications to the masses. Grasso said this was done locally on a small scale in 2001 at the Delray Beach Health Center annex, when 1,000 people working in or visiting the AMI building in Boca Raton potentially were exposed to anthrax, which eventually killed one employee.

Funding comes from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a grant to the Florida Department of Health and then to the local level. This covers staffing, writing plans, coordinating with community partners and stockpiling supplies.

To Get Involved

What: Volunteers for the Cities Readiness Initiative, to help dispense medication and other aid in a public health emergency

How: Call the United Way Volunteer Center at 561-375-6675 or see

Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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