Behind the scenes, Tulsa officials were rehearsing a frantic effort to save lives in the most nightmarish of scenarios.

But on the public side of the curtain Tuesday morning, people simply lined up and quietly filled out paperwork, taking about four minutes on average to get in and out of a makeshift health clinic at Oral Roberts University.

“Our goal isn’t just to be fast,” said Alicia Etgen, the manager of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Program for the Tulsa Health Department. “Our goal is to be as efficient as possible, to be fast but to distribute the medication effectively, too.”

The Health Department has contingency plans for distributing antidotes or vaccinations to as many as 600,000 Tulsa County residents in case of a large-scale health emergency, such as a biochemical terror attack or pandemic outbreak.

But a plan is only as good as the personnel who have to execute it, so officials practiced emergency procedures while giving out free flu shots in the lobby of the Mabee Center, one of 10 designated crisis distribution points across the city.

Police patrolled the parking lot and guarded the entrance, just as they would during a real crisis, while health officials set up the clinic from scratch and rushed supplies to the scene, as if they had just been mobilized on the spur of the moment.

Of course, the flu shots were not such an urgent matter. But if officials have to practice giving shots to a large number of residents, it might as well be a vaccination that people can really benefit from.

Tuesday’s exercise served a dual purpose: rehearsing emergency efforts while kicking off the annual “Don’t Bug Me” flu awareness and prevention campaign.

The Health Department expected to give as many as 600 free flu shots before the end of the day, while timing how long it took to get each person through the process.

A similar event last year set a pace that would let officials distribute emergency medication to the county’s entire population within 24 to 48 hours, if all 10 emergency distribution points were activated and fully staffed, officials said.

“There’s only so much you can simulate for a training exercise,” said Leanne Stephens, a Health Department spokeswoman. “So it helps to have real people involved.”

Twenty other locations statewide will conduct similar exercises this week while distributing flu shots, officials said.


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Michael Overall

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