If the last several months have shown me anything, it is that we are only as strong as our relationships.
Technical expertise and cutting-edge instruments are critical to the mitigation efforts of COVID-19, but from my perspective, multi-agency integration of these key assets is most essential.
Too often, laboratory and other highly-technical personnel do not receive exercises as much as the decision and response groups. As a result these personnel are often unaware of the many highly-qualified technical resources available nearby. Analytical exercises allow participants to focus on developing technical relationships among groups that have never explored opportunities to work together.
I recently witnessed an example of the benefits of analytical exercises.
Since 2018, I have facilitated several analytical exercises, one of which was sponsored by the WMD-Civil Support Team (CST) for the California National Guard. During the exercise the California CST worked closely with and integrated into the Orange County Public Health Department Laboratory. The time and effort the participants put into that experience paid off.
In March 2020, the California CST did not wait to be called upon to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Science Officer Cpt. Brian Quigley called the Orange County Public Health Laboratory directly and offered to help. They were directed to a nearby county that was in great need and immediately integrated to offer their experience in performing diagnostic assays using polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Throughout the next month, the CST provided analytical support and supplies to the Tulare Public Health Lab to combat the rising tide of the pandemic. Their efforts greatly reduced testing turn-around and provided information critical to decision-making by public health officials and health care providers in the field.
This story is an example of the benefits of providing analytical exercises that are multi-agency, integrated and highly technical. The exercise provided the specific conditions necessary for developing technical skills as well as professional relationships that were effective in ways no amount of acquisition or planning could have achieved.