On 28 and 29 November 2017, regional authorities and health care providers of the Dutch province Zeeland participated in a simulation exercise dealing with an escalating seasonal influenza scenario.
During 24 tense hours, hospitals, general practitioners, nursing homes, home care providers, ambulance companies, public health services, mayors and city councils had to deal with a simulated flu epidemic that raged over the country.
More than a dozen organizations delegated specialists to populate the response-cell to feed the evolving narrative to the players. The Delft-based company Trimension masterminded this large operation, and Transmissible was contracted to contribute to the training scenario, and provide expertise on influenza epidemiology, prevention and control.
Though the formal evaluation is still in progress, all parties involved shared first impressions in a 'hot debrief' at the end of the exercise. As far as testing public health preparedness goes, it is clear that there is no alternative to simulation exercises. It is not only an excellent way to remind oneself of the existing protocols; it makes you better understand the different ways in which your partners respond to emergencies; it shows how agreed emergency plans can still be interpreted differently; it demonstrates that most people struggle to anticipate the response capacity needs for the next month, when they are proudly managing double patient intakes today. These were observations that were shared across the table among all participants, immediately at the end of the exercise.
I look forward to the full evaluation report. Independent of that, I can already comment that such regional simulation exercises that involve operational experts, as well as strategic and tactical decision makers, are vital for a solid health emergency preparedness.
Very much worth the effort.