Contact: Julie Willmot
(609) 278-7137

HAMILTON, N.J. -If a plague swept through Mercer County, would your leaders know what to do?

That was the topic July 31 in a training exercise that challenged representatives from various agencies on their degree of readiness in such an emergency.

The mock scenario involved the deliberate release of Yersinia pestis, the plague bacterium, by a terrorist organization.

The "table top" Operation E.T.I.E.R (Examine Test Improve Emergency Response plan) exercise, conducted at the Nottingham Ballroom, was a part of the multiyear series of exercises that Mercer LINCS (Local Information Network and Communications System) has undertaken.

"A public health emergency, natural or manmade, can strike anywhere at anytime and exercises such as this will better prepare Mercer County in case of any real public health emergency," said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes.

One of Mercer County's goals is to build strong relationships with the key partners in the local health-care family. A response to serious biological event requires the collaboration of many agencies. By carrying out this latest exercise, Mercer County Division of Public Health-LINCS was able to bring the following agencies under one roof. These included:

  • Local/County/State agencies
  • Emergency Management (County and local offices of Emergency Management; Haz-Mat teams, Emergency Medical Services)
  • Seven Local Health Departments
  • Representatives from local hospitals and health care facilities including Capital Health Mercer and Fuld campuses; Robert Wood Johnson Hospital at Hamilton; St. Francis Medical Center; Princeton Health Care System; St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center; Henry J. Austin Health Center; and the New Jersey Hospital Association
  • Law Enforcement (State, Local and County Prosecutor and Sheriff's Office)
  • School Districts (Ewing, Princeton; East Windsor; Hopewell Valley Regional)
  • Public Information
  • Volunteer Organizations (Medical Reserve Corps; City Emergency Response Team; American Red Cross; Community Organizations Active in Disaster; Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton; Mercer County's Strategic National Stockpile/Receiving, Staging & Storage Team)

In addition to the participants listed, Mercer LINCS invited a number of observers who critiqued the exercise, including the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security. Organizers said their input was valuable to Mercer officials in helping determine where the emergency plan might need strengthening.

The exercise was required under the City Readiness Initiative (CRI) and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Grant. Mercer County's Division of Public Health intends to carry out in conjunction with the other agencies a series of exercises pertaining to Pharmaceutical Readiness in an event related to Public Health Emergency Preparedness.

"These series of exercises take place over several years and in varying degrees of intensity, so that our first-responders are as ready as possible in the face of a real emergency," said Hughes. "I believe every minute of training by these committed people is just one more way that County government can help ensure the safety and well-being of the people of Mercer County. This is one of our most important functions in these tumultuous times."

The series of exercises graduate from Facilitated Discussion to Table Top to Functional and finally, Full Scale, involving specifically the Central West Regions (Hunterdon & Somerset Counties) of New Jersey and the adjoining state of Pennsylvania, particularly Bucks County and the City of Philadelphia. These exercises will be carried out in compliance with the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Programs (HSEEP) as well as the NJDHSS exercise strategy.