By Joyce McClure
Sirens and flashing lights herald Yap’s Covid-19 preparedness exercise
Colonia, Yap-- The blaring sirens and flashing lights of ambulance and public safety vehicles are among the signs this week that the normally quiet island of Yap is preparing for the repatriation of its residents who have been stranded overseas since the pandemic slammed into the world and the FSM’s borders closed more than 14 months ago.
Eight members of the FSM National Covid-19 Taskforce Assessment team are on the island until May 10 to determine the readiness of the island’s medical personnel, taskforce and facilities.
The intensive 12-day program is a critical step in ensuring that the island is prepared for the arriving citizens who include medical patients, students, government workers, and those who were simply visiting relatives in Guam, Hawaii and the mainland when the pandemic hit.
Led by Dr. Joanes Sarofalpiy, Public Health and Hospital Emergency Preparedness Program medical director with the FSM National Department of Health and Social Affairs, the assessment process uses the World Health Organization’s simulation exercise scenario and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention readiness checklist.
Divided into three modules, the team is conducting a facilities assessment, tabletop exercise and a field simulation exercise.
The program was piloted on Pohnpei in June 2020 at the behest of President David Panuelo with the other three states to follow.
According to a post on Facebook by Yap Risk Communication & Community Engagement Team, “the assessment process is organized to allow for sufficient discussion and consensus and a real-time thorough walk-through of the entire process to reveal strengths and gaps in a very detailed manner. At the end of the assessment, there will be in-depth discussion to allow all parties to agree on an improvement plan that identifies action points, responsible persons/departments and timeline.”
The process has the following objectives: to conduct an inspection of facilities at the state’s port of entry, quarantine and isolation areas; determine the strengths and weaknesses identified from the assessment and develop actionable items and recommendations for improvement; and, initiate the implementation of short-term recommendations in collaboration with the state task force.
The team arrived from Pohnpei on Pacific Mission Aviation on April 28 and will return on May 10 since interstate travel is allowed in the covid-free nation.
Upon arrival, they were met by the Yap State Department of Health’s port of entry Covid-19 screening team to be processed prior to release. The following day they began a series of meetings with the stakeholders starting with a briefing with Yap Gov. Henry Falan and Lt. Gov. Jesse Salalu.
On May 4, an announcement was posted on social media and read on the local radio station alerting the public that the simulation exercise would take place the following morning at Yap State International Airport and ESA Hotel, the state-designated quarantine facility.
According to WHO’s website, “A full-scale exercise simulates a real event as close to reality as possible; designed to evaluate the operational capability of systems in a highly stressful environment that simulates actual response conditions. This type of exercise involves all the named responders in the plan, and requires the deployment of personnel and equipment.”
Common features include the “use of scenarios developed from a script that is prepared in advance”; an “evaluation, validation and updating of preparedness and response plans”; training and an evaluation of tools and processes including the “decision-making process and overall teamwork”; and a “prior needs assessment with stakeholders to clarify the content and setting in which the exercise will be carried out.”
FSM’s Department of Health & Social Affairs published a comprehensive document detailing the Covid-19 national guidelines on August 4, 2020 “based on WHO, US CDC and other international accepted guidelines and recommendations, for uniform application and implementation” throughout the country.
The guidelines helped “standardize our preparedness and readiness for response….while also recognizing and addressing the unique circumstances of each of our four States.”
Signed by the late Dr. Livingston A. Taulung, Secretary of the FSM DHSA and Chairman of the National Emergency Taskforce for Covid-19, it stated, “This is a living document and will change as the Covid-19 outbreak evolves and the science changes.”
Residents of Yap were notified on May 4 that they may hear emergency sirens and see flashing lights “from our ambulances and public safety vehicles during this exercise. Do not be alarmed as this is just a drill.” They were advised to pull over to the side of the road and allow the vehicles to pass.
The next step will the publication of the results of the team’s assessment.