Ebola in Charleston? It was a drill to prepare for the real thing


With container ships from around the world entering the Port of Charleston, maritime experts agree the Lowcountry is vulnerable to highly contagious diseases.

That's why first responders are practicing for a medical emergency. A first-ever exercise took place Tuesday at the federal law enforcement training center in North Charleston, preparing Coast Guard crews and civilians for a worst case scenario.

Cape Chalmers is a retired Merchant Marine vessel, but it was on active duty for training Tuesday.

EMTs and an ICU nurse could be seen adding three layers of protection to their bodies. They were covered from head to toe as they went over the practices of a specialized medical unit during a disease response call.

"We do a number of exercises throughout the year. Whether they be hurricane exercise, pollution incidents, that sort of thing," said Lt. Commander Shannon Scaff with the U.S. Coast Guard. "But this is the first time we've done a communicable disease exercise utilizing the CDC and the medical university."

Medical experts from MUSC, DHEC and the CDC closely watched as a team walked the gangway and boarded the vessel. They scenario they were given involved a container ship from Sierra Leone with a sick crew member.

With limited space in a small cabin room, they began treating the sick patient. In the simulation, the person had symptoms of Ebola. The person was placed in an isolation stretcher to prevent the spread of germs.

"Going through all the motions of how we could get a high risk infectious disease team to respond to them, to get them off the ship and take them to a hospital is a real thing that needs to be thought of," said Dr. Kathy Leham with MUSC. "I have to applaud the folks for putting this together. I think we're ahead of a lot of areas in our country."

The Coast Guard is also examining the integration of federal, state, local and private industry response efforts.

Officials say they plan to practice these emergency medical scenarios every year.

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