Tempest on a Tabletop - State and federal agencies prepare for HPAI in Alaska
(Click to enlarge photos)
On May 6 and 7, 2008, a team of partners representing the state of Alaska and federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USGS conducted an avian influenza “tabletop” exercise. The event provided an opportunity for these partners to work through their responses to a hypothetical outbreak of avian influenza among wild birds and poultry in Alaska. By conducting such an exercise, the participating agencies hoped to identify and fix any problems in their respective response plans. In the unlikely event that an actual widespread outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza (or “bird flu”) actually does occur in Alaska, the lessons learned in the tabletop exercise should prove to be of great value.
Dr. Robert Gerlach, Alaska State Veterinarian, and Kim Trust (seated), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist, explain the tabletop scenario.
The proposed scenario required an interagency response to a series of avian influenza-related bird die-off events at different locations in Alaska; the first event involved migratory birds, and then later, domestic poultry. The Alaska State Department of Environmental Conservation took the lead on organizing the exercise, but representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USGS Alaska Science Center, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game were all part of the planning team.
USGS Wildlife Diseases Specialists, Drs. Krysten Schuler and Anne Ballmann, presented information on common diseases routinely found in wildlife, as well as highly pathogenic avian influenza, which has not been detected in North American wildlife.
The final segment of the exercise enabled those who would be called upon to respond to a wild bird mortality event to practice protocols, the use of personal protective gear in a field setting, and to actually collect samples. The banks of Anchorage's Campbell Creek provided a suitably challenging muddy and brushy locale, and unseasonable spring heat emphasized the discomfort and fatiguing nature of working in protective gear.
The levels of teamwork and cooperation shown during the entire event were impressive, and the tabletop exercise allowed people to discover any shortcomings to response protocols. Additional meetings are planned to continue to refine procedures and to make sure that all of those responsible for responding to a potential outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in Alaska are confident and ready to do so.
Some of the members from the laboratory portion of the Alaska avian influenza "tabletop" exercise. The exercise provided an opportunity for wildlife, domestic animal, and public health professionals from state and federal agencies to work side-by-side exchanging ideas and methods before they are thrust into battling a common threat.
Text contributed by Bruce Woods, USFWS.