Preparedness was an unfunded mandate, and without funds, that function, by necessity, was pretty much ignored. It is no longer ignored, as every health department employee in the state has been trained and is ready to deal with disasters, either manmade or natural.
"We're now first responders," Judy said. "We were not considered that before. If they need us, we'll be there."
There are slots for preparedness coordinators in all county health departments, although there may not be an individual in that spot. Other employees may have taken on that job.
Whoever has the preparedness job is charged with writing and reviewing plans for disasters ranging from avian flu to anthrax poisonings. The health department would be the unit in charge of mass vaccinations, but the department will not act alone.
The first step in a disaster
The first step in a disaster might be a declaration of a state of emergency by the county's judge-executive, based on the advice he receives from the health department and the emergency management agency.
To work all of that out, plus naming the location for a clinic conducted by the health department, there must be communications for all the people and agencies involved in such an event. There is a system by which each person is notified by cell or land-line telephone, e-mail or pager.
About 60 people in Boyle County are on the alert network for a disaster. If those fail, and they did for people hit by Hurricane Katrina, there is a satellite telephone in the offices of the agencies involved.
Those agencies include the hospital, emergency medical services, schools, businesses and industries, and hazardous material teams in addition to health, police and fire departments. A mass vaccination could not be held at the Boyle County Health Department on Third Street. No medications are stockpiled there, and the building is too small to handle the county's population.
While it is unlikely that Kentucky will get hit by a hurricane or a terrorist attack, Judy reminds people that the state is sitting in the New Madrid fault zone. Three earthquakes along the fault in 1811 and 1812 changed the course of the Mississippi River and created lakes where there were none before. The state also is the victim of tornadoes and floods.
Because the types of disasters are so broad and because not all can be resolved by outside agencies, Judy and Roger Trent, director of the Boyle County Health Department, urge people to make their own preparedness plan.
"People need to develop a level of self-sufficiency to take care of themselves," Trent said.
Start by putting month's supply aside
Judy said the recommendation for a family, home or individual preparedness kit is to have a three-month supply of necessary items, but she said officials recognize that can be costly and so she suggests people start by putting a month's supply of necessities aside. People also are encouraged to take first aid and CPR classes.
County health departments have conducted classes involving the actions to take in case of a wide-spread flu. In the event of avian flu, the safest thing to do may be to stay at home, initially, Trent said. On the other hand, a disaster may mean people may need to be evacuated from their work and homes to be safe.
Health department personnel also have to deal with the problems such an event could cause them. "We have to decide what to do if 30 percent of employees would not be available," Judy said.
There are materials at health departments to advise citizens how to be prepared for various disasters, and people are urged to avail themselves of all of the information available.