Emergency Management Agencies Ready for Zika: TX & FL

San Angelo Gears Up for Zika

As of Aug. 31, 2016, Texas had 140 Zika cases, with more expected to develop in the days to come.

Mindful of the risks, the city of San Angelo, Texas, staged an emergency management training exercise on Aug. 15, 2016. It was attended by city and county officials, executives from both local hospitals, and officials from Goodfellow Air Force Base located in San Angelo, where the exercise was held.

“We got all of the key players within the community to sit down and discuss our responses to Zika,” said San Angelo Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Mild. “We held a tabletop exercise that looked at all of our current plans and how they would come into play, should a Zika outbreak occur locally. We also looked at areas that need shoring up to determine what needs to be done now before anything serious happens.”

In terms of San Angelo emergency management’s role in coping with a Zika situation, Mild isn’t worried about overhauling response procedures. “Our EOC people know what to do, thanks to our previous training and preparations to deal with H1N1 and Ebola,” he said. “The big problem is that we don’t have the funding to do the job properly, should Zika become an issue in our area.”

Mild cited proactive mosquito trapping and testing as one area currently suffering from under-funding. “The people at Goodfellow Air Force Base have mosquito traps at hand, but we don’t,” he said. “This means that we are currently reliant on them detecting Zika-infected mosquitoes, and hoping that their detection gives us sufficient lead time to take action. If infected insects come to other parts of San Angelo before they hit the base, we just won’t know. We don’t have the money to staff a robust trapping program on our own.”

Faced with inadequate mosquito trapping and testing, the best San Angelo and its emergency management personnel can do is to monitor what information they can obtain from available sources and be ready to respond should the Zika infection level rise to outbreak status. “We have good people in all agencies looking to deal with Zika if it becomes a serious issue,” Mild said. “Let’s hope that it doesn’t.”

Orange County Remains Vigilant

Florida’s Orange County had reported 40 Zika cases as of Aug. 31, 2016. “Working with local health officials, we have been involved in doing extensive mosquito trapping and testing,” said Ron Plummer, manager of Orange County’s Office of Emergency Management (OCOEM). “So far none of the mosquitoes tested have tested positive for Zika, which is why we are concluding that cases are all travel-related.”

Still, given the time lag between Zika case reporting, trapping and testing, Orange County isn’t taking any chances. “When a suspected case is reported, the block where the person under investigation lives is identified, and Orange County Mosquito Control immediately begins a spraying and trapping in a 0.8-mile radius every three days until test results are confirmed,” Plummer said. “We’re playing it safe, for the public’s sake.”

Should Orange County confirm that a local mosquito has Zika, it will activate its EOC to a level 2 with a unified command structure. This activation will ensure that the county’s health services and mosquito control teams provide the local health department with any additional resources that they might need. Emergency management will provide trained volunteers and personnel from other county departments to help out as well.

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