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Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2018 Vol. 65 No. 7

Operation Lone Star (OLS). Smart Solutions.

Imagine Hurricane Harvey response efforts if the agencies involved weren't trained to work together. Now stop. That's not how we do things here in Texas. Section 418.102 of the Texas Government Code states that every county is required by law to maintain an emergency management program or participate in an inter-jurisdictional emergency management program. One event that satisfies this requirement and goes beyond is Operation Lone Star (OLS), being held July 23 – 27, 2018, in 6 different cities and counties in South Texas.

OLS is a full-scale, inter-agency preparedness exercise (state guard) that offers the opportunity for the community to receive free healthcare services. Launched in 1999, after two years of small-scale healthcare "exercises," the Texas Department of Health (now the Department of State Health Services) partnered with the U.S. Navy, providing them an opportunity to exercise their Navy and Marine Reserve personnel to provide healthcare services in an underserved area of the state. Working with the DSHS Office of Border Health, they set up temporary clinics in local schools and designed a patient flow system. The Navy supplied medical providers and equipment.

Fast forward to present and partnerships abound: DSHS, Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services, Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Department, the City of Laredo Health Department, the Texas Army National Guard, the Texas Air National Guard, the Texas State Guard, along with volunteers from local agencies and support from local government and school officials. The services provided include immunizations for children, diabetic screenings, blood pressure screenings, physicals, dental and vision exams. All for free. Thousands of residents benefit and learn from the services.

Some OLS history worth noting:

Hurricane Dolly landed in July 2008, days before an OLS was set to begin. Half the military volunteers deployed for Operation Dolly Rescue; the other half stayed for OLS. "We made due with half of the staff, with the other half assisting those whose homes had become islands," remembered John Villarreal, bilingual information specialist with DSHS. This real-life scenario taught responders how to manage with fewer volunteers than planned.

There were over 300 cases of Zika in Texas in 2016 and cases were ramping up in 2017. OLS dealt with it by offering free Zika prevention kits for pregnant woman, and free mosquito repellant. "The message is always prevention," said County assistant health administrator Marco Lozano (krgv TV news story).

Even if you don't reside in South Texas, hopefully, you can be inspired by the OLS exercise mission that includes:

  • helping staff understand the military system and organizational structure as participants work hand-in-hand with local and state representatives;
  • building the effectiveness of the working relationship with the county's larger school districts, empowering their staff to be able to assist during a large-scale event and giving them the confidence to deal with emergency situations;
  • allowing the county's local university, community college, and vocational schools an opportunity to take part in such a large-scale operation, and use this as an education and training tool from a volunteer perspective (some 800 Hidalgo County volunteers assisted during OLS).
  • facilitating training with available technology, such as regional radio communication, internet/digital communication, and satellite uplink communication.

In 2016, more than 42,000 medical and public health services were provided to more than 8,700 people, Lozano said. In 2017, 8,175 Texans received 40,276 health services in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Webb counties. "Collaborative effort is to practice emergency response roles while simultaneously providing free medical services to residents", said John Villarreal.

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