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Colorado Springs hospitals and FBI work on emergency preparedness with bioterrorism exercise

Posted at 7:34 AM, Feb 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-22 09:34:06-05

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Three Colorado Springs hospitals and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted exercises Wednesday to increase staff and emergency preparedness in the scenario there's a full-scale bioterrorism event.

CommonSpirit Penrose, St. Francis Hospital and St. Francis Hospital - Interquest, all participated in the unannounced mock disaster with partners from the FBI.

During the event, hospital staff had patients come in suffering from symptoms that would often be misdiagnosed like difficulty swallowing, muscle weakness, double vision, difficulty breathing, slurred speech and more.

"There is no exercise I have ever been to that goes 100% perfect, so we learn from each scenario things that we can do better," FBI Special Agent David Autrey said. "And this is why the FBI is here today, is to see how we can partner and see what other kinds of things we can bring to the table to help the hospitals prepare for this type of event."

Unbeknownst to staff, patients were simulating suffering from a botulinum toxin that was intentionally placed in the milk supply. During the drill, patients were rolled in on stretchers, all while the hospitals remained open and fully functional.

"Drills like these help us focus on three areas: readiness, response, and recovery. This exercise focuses on a bioterrorism act,” Sara Baird, Emergency Preparedness Manager at Penrose and St. Francis Hospitals, said. “Our goal is to observe how the Emergency Departments communicate with one another, activate Incident Command, report to Infection Prevention and the Public Health. We appreciate the FBI taking part in this exercise.”

Following the drills, hospital staff would conduct a "hotwash" or immediate review of the successes of the drill and highlight areas where staff could improve and the challenges they faced.

Local hospitals and FBI agents hold mock bioterrorism exercise