If a deadly disease were to strike Alaska, how easy would it be to get people the care they need? And, would there be enough medicine to go around? Those are two of the questions state officials are hoping to answer as they wrap-up a statewide drill.

Sondra LeClair is the emergency preparedness and response manager for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. LeClair said the drill taking place this week involves a scenario where pneumonic plague, a severe lung infection caused by bacteria, is introduced to the state.

Participants were tasked with getting preventive medicine to communities around the state in addition to information on how to protect their health. Hundreds of people are taking part in the drill, according to LeClair.

"Just as in a real event, [...] it would involve local emergency management, public health, medical centers, the state. It would involve our federal partners. And so all of those entities are also involved in this exercise," she said.

volunteers distribute medication during the drill

The health department identified more than a dozen participating communities including Anchorage, Bethel, Cordova, Nome and Valdez. Smaller villages were included as well.

It's important for the public to know that the state has a plan if the unthinkable were to happen, LeClair said.

Part of that plan and the drill is the process of getting medicine from the Lower 48, which is likely what would happen in a real emergency. LeClair explained that though the state keeps some medicines on hand, it doesn't stockpile a large amount.

Instead, a request must be made to the federal government's Strategic National Stockpile. According to its website, the stockpile was created in 1999 as a way to prepare for potential bioterrorism attacks with the ability to assemble and deliver appropriate medications to states within 12 hours. In recent years, the stockpile has been used during public health emergencies caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as the Zika virus.

LeClair said in this case, thousands of bottles of "practice medication" arrived in Alaska within the 12-hour time frame.

The drill concludes this weekend with an exercise in the Mat-Su Borough. LeClair said participants will take next week to analyze how the exercise went statewide and identify areas for improvement.

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