By KANTELE FRANKO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Representatives from 22 emergency services agencies worked to coordinate their responses to an imaginary public health crisis Tuesday during an Emergency Operations Center functional exercise.
Besides Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana, four other counties simultaneously participated in the five-hour event, which was sponsored by the Ohio Department of Health.
Participants representing law enforcement and health agencies, hospitals and government offices throughout the tri-county area spent the day at the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency on Industrial Road.
They faced the challenge of organizing a response to a scenario involving a public health problem caused by terrorism that had the potential for mass casualties.
The scenario centered around a weekend of snowstorms and a Youngstown State University commencement ceremony, after which a number of people developed the symptoms of influenza.
Controllers guided the participants through the activity and supplied new information at various points throughout the day to keep players on the right track.
In contrast with the participating agencies from Medina, Portage, Stark and Summit Counties, the team from the Mahoning Valley had an unusual challenge because the imaginary disaster began in the Youngstown area, said Walter Duzzny, the director of the emergency management agency.
"It's all about coordination," he said. "We'll see if the right decisions are being made in terms of public safety."
Though such a disaster would be a very unusual event, the time spent in preparation is worth the cost, said Mahoning County Commissioner John McNally, who attended the beginning of the event to observe.
For the effects of a disaster to be great, "All it takes is one time being unprepared," he said.