Tippecanoe County’s efforts to plan for potential health epidemics, bio-terrorist attacks

Purdue and Tippecanoe County Health Department partnership (WLFI)
Purdue and Tippecanoe County Health Department partnership (WLFI)

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — The Tippecanoe County Health Department is working with Purdue University to better prepare for a bio-terrorist attack or health epidemic.

Purdue grad students are running computer simulated models that could keep you and your family healthy in the event of an epidemic.

The idea started in 2014 when Tippecanoe County Emergency Preparedness coordinator Ryan Tennesen contacted the Purdue Homeland Security Institute.

“I’m not a believer in the if. I’m always planning for it — thinking that it’s when it’s going to happen,” said Tennesen. “On my end, it gives me the data; it gives me the facts [and] shows me the areas I do need to improve, either our plans or the overall process.”

On Purdue’s end, it gives students a real-life chance to make a difference in the world.

Dr. Adam Kirby was one of the students who started the project in 2014. Now, Kirby is graduated but continuing the project as a visiting professor.

“It would be so amazing to know that our research here in small town Indiana was able to influence policy across the entire nation,” said Dr. Kirby.

In the first year, Purdue Homeland Security Institute studied staff allocation at PODs or point of distribution centers. That’s where people would come for vaccines or medications.

“We were actually able to reduce the amount of time it takes for every individual to pass through the POD by 64 percent,” said Kirby.

In the second year, they worked with Purdue’s nursing department to study training methods. Dr. Pam Aaltonen said it was ideal for her students.

“[It] gives them an opportunity to see it, to get involved with it,” said Aalotonen. “And to also think about when they graduate, that they want to go out and become a part of a response team in whatever community they might move to.”

This year, they are trying to reduce the number of errors at the POD, while also keeping reducing the wait time. They found out a check station was a good way to accomplish their goal.

“By putting those two individuals at the end that should reduce the errors to virtually nothing,” said graduate student Patrick Glass.

The group plans to move research beyond Tippecanoe County. They hope to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a national model.

On Thursday, the Tippecanoe County Health Department hosted a training exercise at Purdue. The data gathered there will be entered into the simulator and applied to the overall preparedness plan.