Joint Task Force Homeland Defense (JTF-HD)
Observes Anthrax Drill in Palau

By Darrell D. Ames, JTF-HD Public Affairs

JTF-HD personnel review the morning agenda during day one of Operatoin Snow Storm in Palau JTF-HD personnel review the morning agenda during day one of Operatoin Snow Storm in Palau. (Official JTF-HD Photo by Darrell D. Ames)

A small contingent of Joint Task Force Homeland Defense (JTF-HD) personnel traveled to the Republic of Palau (ROP) recently to observe and provide requested expertise during the island nation’s Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) tabletop and full scale exercise. The drill, hosted by the ROP and dubbed Operation Snow Storm, was an intentional anthrax contamination at several popular tourist accommodations and included the participation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Center for Disease Control (CDC).

"Our mission was strictly observation," said Army Major John Parrish, JTF-HD executive officer. "The primary purpose of the exercise was to measure and validate performance during the deployment of SNS assets to ROP, receipt of the assets, and finally dispensing of the assets," Parrish said.

"The scenario was mass distribution of medicine during an anthrax attach," said Pearl Marumoto, ROP Emergency Health Program (EHP) administrator. "We’re using the exercise to test the capabilities of the agencies, and how they respond as a nation to an emergency or disaster."

"Our purpose for being there was to support the exercise, evaluate capabilities, and meet senior government officials and emergency management personnel," said JTF-HD support specialist Sean Casey.

"We focus on anthrax because it is one of the diseases that might require mass distribution of medicines," said Marumoto. Anthrax is an acute disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, affecting both humans and other animals. Most forms of the disease are lethal although there are effective vaccines against anthrax, and some forms of the disease respond well to antibiotic treatment.

JTF-HD personnel pose with ROP President, Johnson Toribiong during their recent trip to Palau JTF-HD personnel pose with ROP President, Johnson Toribiong during their recent trip to Palau. (Official JTF-HD Photo by Darrell D. Ames)

The first day of the visit saw JTF-HD members participate in a Ministry of Health (MOH) and EHP coordinated tour where they were able to visit the ROP Ministry of Justice, National Emergency Management Office (NEMO), Bureau of Aviation, President’s Chief of Staff, Vice President, Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Health.

"Meeting with the leaders of Palau on that first day was very beneficial to all parties concerned," said Parrish. "We wanted to let them know we were here for them if needed and that we were very excited to build and nurture our relationship with them."

The second day started with the table top exercise and concluded on the fourth day with the actual functional drills at locations such as the airport; a designated Receive, Save, and Storage (RSS) site; and finally at the Palauan National Gymnasium, used for the Point of Dispensing (POD) site. "The exercise also demonstrated how to coordinate the formulation and dissemination of clear, accurate and consistent information to the public and news media and to control the possible spread of rumors that could impact public safety," said Greg Hand, CDC field representative.

The most exciting part of the visit for the JTF-HD staff members occurred on day five as they were able to enjoy lunch with the President of the ROP, President Johnson Toribiong. "I want to thank the United States government for their participation in this exercise. Palau and this region must indeed adopt a proactive emergency preparedness policy that will allow for the maximum protection of the people and assets during any natural, man-made or technical disasters," Toribiong said.

JTF-HD, with its Defense Coordinating Element, is based at Fort Shafter, Hawaii and is designated as the Homeland Defense coordinating agency between the Department of Defense and the civilian authorities in Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands as well as three foreign governments in the JOA to include the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. Working closely with Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and military organizations in the Pacific, JTF-HD maintains situational awareness, helps coordinate implementation of a comprehensive Critical Infrastructure Protection Program across the JOA, and when required, coordinates and provides DOD resources to help save lives and prevent great property damage.