The Iowa Department of Public Health is launching an emergency preparedness exercise today (Thursday) that involves six counties. Nicole Peckumn of the Health Department says the exercise is called “Operation Viper.” She says it’s a unique activity where no equipment will be moved during the three-week exercise as state and local officials respond to a mock infectious disease outbreak.

Peckumn says the Health Department is working with state Emergency Management officials to conduct the exercise in Delaware, Humboldt, Lee, Sioux, Union and Webster counties. Peckumn says all the participants will receive messages through e-mail, phone, fax or the health alert system. She says officials will have to act on the information and treat it like its a regular health emergency.

Peckumn says health and emergency officials will have to make their own decisions on how to handle the problem. She says once the participant at the local level determines the type of infectious disease, they’ll have to respond by finding the people in their community who’re sick. Peckumn says they’ll then have to determine how to treat the sick and get them medications.

Peckumn says this is an important part of preparing for a real emergency. She says,”This exercise is really beneficial because it’s intense realism and the scenario is unfolding in near real time, which allows players to handle a situation just like would happen in a real emergency.”

Peckumn says there are safeguards built in so this exercise doesn’t get mistaken for the real thing. She says all of the participants have strict instructions to let them know what is true and what is false. Peckumn says they’ll evaluate the response tot he exercise and be able to identify gaps in emergency plans and make improvements.