- When McAlester resident Carolyn King strode into the
Pittsburg County Health Department on Saturday morning, her thoughts
- But she didn't think about playing with dolls or swinging
from a tree.
- Instead, she recalled huddling under her desk at
school - another little girl trying to hide from a future enemy who might
someday rain death from the skies.
- "I was raised in the San Francisco Bay area right
after World War II," King said. "We had air raid
- If an air raid ever became a reality, authorities were
prepared to identify bombing victims pulled from the school's
- "We wore dog tags," King said. "We wore
them to school every day."
- That's why King took the Sooner Spring bioterrorism
in McAlester on Friday and Saturday seriously.
- "I was raised on air raid drills," she said.
"I think our children should be trained."
- King and thousands of other area residents who also took
the Sooner Spring bioterrorism drill in McAlester seriously helped make
it a success in the eyes of officials who planned it.
- It exceeded their most optimistic expectations.
- By the time the exercise ended at 2 p.m. Saturday, some
13,635 doses of "antibiotics" in the form of jelly beans and
pediatric fruit drinks had been distributed.
- "Without a doubt, today McAlester set the pace for
the rest of the nation," said Pittsburg County Medical Director Dr.
- Sooner Spring had been planned to test how well local
emergency and health personnel could react to a bioterrorism attack of
the pneumonic plague.
- The two-day drill kicked off around noon Friday when
a vintage 1942 C-47 transport plane flew over the city of McAlester and
the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.
- While flying, the plane simulated spraying an aerosol
mist containing the pneumonic plague.
- McAlester-area residents participated in the Sooner
exercise in such large numbers that the goal of distributing 10,000 doses
of mock antibiotics had been surpassed by 11 a.m. on Saturday.
- Although the exercise had been set to continue until
4 p.m., concerns about lightning associated with a storm front pushing
through the area prompted officials to end it two hours early.
- Those involved praised the spirit of McAlester-area
Before the exercise began, there had been no way to predict how many people
would show up to participate. Those planning the event counted on the
of people in the McAlester area.
- They weren't disappointed.
- "I'm not surprised by the people of McAlester,"
- Even before warning sirens sounded Saturday morning,
area residents were lining up at distribution sites, including the Wal-Mart
Supercenter, the Pittsburg County Health Department, the Warren Clinic
and the Pittsburg County Fairgrounds.
- Distribution sites were also set up in Krebs, Crowder
and Kiowa. McAAP handled its own distribution.
- In addition to those who participated by going to
centers, numerous individuals helped in other ways.
- "There were 16 different groups and about 700
Cathey said of those who participated.
- McAlester's exercise had a featured spot Saturday on
ABC World News Tonight. Numerous state media descended on the city for
- The exercise in McAlester and at the McAlester Army
Plant has been called the most extensive bioterrorism drill in U.S.
Officials said McAlester is leading the nation on how to respond to such
- "They will look to McAlester as a model for the
way to do things right," Cathey said
- That's not simply Cathey's opinion. Among those who
to McAlester to observe the exercise was U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jim Sahli,
of Fort Monroe, Va.
- "I work for the Joint Task Force for Civil
Sahli said. "If it exceeded the local and state facilities, they would
call us here. About a half-dozen of us came down to watch.
- "Just seeing it in action ... being in the field
like this, gives us a good feel."
- Sahli watched in the McAlester Regional Health Center,
where hospital personnel set up a triage to treat volunteer
of the pneumonic plague.
- Ambulances and buses had unloaded groups of volunteers
who were serving as victims to be treated at the hospital. They were
inside the hospital on gurneys and whisked inside on wheel chairs.
- Kaydee Langley lay on a stretcher as Bob Anderson asked
her about her illness, surrounded by dozens of other
- With a small army of doctors and nurses called to the
hospital for the drill, physicians such as Dr. Dwain Doyle moved from
to patient, checking symptoms of "victims" such as Boy Scout
- Scoutmaster Chris Taylor said the scouts had been on
a mock camp-out when hit by the "plague."
- At the hospital, patients were tagged with color-coded
tags according to the severity of their "illness." Seventy-seven
patients were treated in the hour-and-a-half that the hospital drill
- "I think it went pretty good," Dr. Doyle said
afterwards. "There were a lot of people coming through. We had a lot
of people here, nurses, staff, clerical people and doctors."
- Outside the hospital, McAlester Fire Marshal Harold
had watched as the patients were wheeled and carried into the triage
- "This has surpassed all expectations and a lot of
it's due to the participation of the public," Stewart said.
- Steve Hazlewood with the U.S. Public Health service
a desk at the Health Department, with Sonja Haynie and Nita Cable,
jelly beans in place of doxycycline and Cipro.
- "We've been very busy," he said.
- Pittsburg County Dep. Joe Kerns said people had started
lining up outside the health department around 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
- At the Krebs School, Registered Nurse Maye Durant said
360 doses had been handed out by noon. When the medication ran out, people
were given index cards with the names of the appropriate medications on
- "This gives us a chance to articulate our
Durant said. She called the exercise a way to educate the public as well
as a way for health officials to articulate their skills.
- Outside, Krebs Emergency Management Director Peter
said "Everybody did a good job."
- Pittsburg County Health Department Director Mike Echelle
had a busy day, checking on the various distribution sites.
- Inside the Emergency Operations Center in the Pittsburg
County Office of Emergency Management, EM Director Billy Mellor and
from the agencies involved coordinated activities.
- At the Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot, Dr. Larry Lewis
and Dr. Belinda Savage-Edwards joined other volunteers at the drive-through
distribution points, while cars moved smoothly through lanes to pick up
- "I think it's pretty amazing," Smith said.
"All the planning and coordination looks like it's paying off.
- "If this had happened a year ago, before Sept. 11,
there might not have been as much participation," Smith said.
everybody takes it seriously."
- Savage-Edwards said the participation has been
- At the Warren Clinic, Billie Cathey, director of the
Southeastern Oklahoma Chapter of the American Red Cross, said some of the
food that had been prepared had ran out. The Red Cross had provided 500
meals for volunteers and provided snacks to anyone who asked.
- Also at the Warren Clinic, Carol Maxwell and Holly Cathey
said 345 adult doses and 87 pediatric doses had been distributed by 11:50
- On Saturday night, Dr. Cathey prepared to answer another
media call. He had been invited by the BBC in England to be a guest on
a morning radio show to discuss the bioterrorism drill in McAlester.
- "When the British people show an interest in the
activities of people in McAlester, Oklahoma, certainly the importance of
what happened today far exceeds the boundaries of the U.S," he
- ©McAlester News-Capital & Democrat 2002