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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Governor attends avian flu exercise

By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON The scenario is this: The World Health Organization sounds an alert about an avian flu outbreak in Thailand in which the disease is transmitted between humans. Within weeks, it spreads to Honolulu and the Mainland.

Gov. Linda Lingle, state Adjutant General Robert Lee and more than a dozen federal officials faced the situation yesterday in a two-hour avian flu pandemic exercise hosted by the Defense Department.

The exercise time frame covered 14 weeks and used news reports, videos and graphics to show the spread to Honolulu and other major port cities before the disease moved farther inland, Lingle said.

"It was trying to think through and share and getting their experience on some of the public policy questions we will face if something like this should happen," Lingle said of yesterday's exercise, held at the Pentagon.

"It's very sobering to think through these issues," she said.

They involved maintaining vital operations of services such as water, sewer and roads, keeping government running and deciding priorities for using any available vaccines and antiviral drugs.

"We have to protect those who are going out to protect the rest of us emergency medical technicians, police, firemen," she said.

Lingle said the exercise made her "feel even stronger" about her pending request to the Legislature for $15 million to buy about 300,000 doses of the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza, enough for about 25 percent of the state's population.

"The appropriation is critical," she said. "We need to know that they are going to vote on that, so we can order it and get it stockpiled."

Others involved in the exercise included federal officials from the Office of the Surgeon General and the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services.

Lee said one expectation is that normal services people are accustomed to, such as garbage pickup, would be disrupted by the pandemic.

"We can lick this, but it's not going to be life as normal," he said.

Reach Dennis Camire at dcamire@gns.gannett.com.