In Case of a Public Health Emergency, Dallas County Would Prefer If You Didn't Panic

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Dallas County Health & Human Services's monthly Public Health Preparedness Update is a great read full of fascinating tidbits -- lots of stuff this go-round about expanded HIV testing capabilities, the flu "outbreak," second-hand smoke and so forth. But one tiny Page 2 piece piqued our interest: The county's trying to figure out how to distribute medication to folks "within 48 hours in the event of a bioterrorism attack or a naturally occurring, community-wide disease outbreak."

Because, see, if a public health emergency ever does occur, the department doesn't want everybody running to one location -- like, say, the convention center. Instead, this new initiative is an effort to train volunteer employees at big companies -- Texas Instruments, say, or the city of Dallas -- how to respond. The idea is, these staff volunteers would distribute preventative medication to the other employees and their families and so on and so forth.

"We realize that Dallas County, and all over the nation, all of us will be on our own up to 48 hours, possibly 72 hours, until we get some type of federal help as it relates to some type of disaster," HHS director Zach Thompson tells Unfair Park. The county wants companies to know that "we can go in and work with them on their disaster planning."

While Thompson focuses the department on preparing for unknown disasters, what truly worries him is whether or not people will comply with regulations if and when a disaster strikes.

"The worst-case scenario is the unknown, but also: How do you manage in today's society people who are so used to going as they please, to be able to get them to understand that in an emergency you have to follow some very stringent orders?" Thompson punctuates his question with a small chuckle.

"Anything could happen," he says. "Whether it's a biological attack, whether it's a hurricane, whether it's a flood, whether it's a man-made episode here, I think the real issue that faces all of us is whether or not we as citizens of a particular county can really deal with following orders that we're requested to do. The recent ice storms, just getting people to stay off the road is a major task. People can see that on TV and see the danger and still get out there."

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