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County can dial satellite in disaster

With a boost from the federal government, Island County Health Department will be able to reach out and touch someone in the event of a large-scale disaster.

Under a contract with the state Department of Health, the department will receive $4,188 to install a satellite phone that will establish communications when other phone lines have failed.

“The only time we will put this into use is in an emergency situation where other communications are unavailable,” said Health Department Physician Roger Case. “The satellite phone is a basic backup.”

The money comes from a federal program to help local agencies respond to bioterrorism. Case said the department will be able to use it for all instances of public health emergency plans and responses.

“Bioterrorism is the buzz word that gets money for grants,” Case said.

The phone will be housed in the basement of the county building in Coupeville. Deputy Director for Administrative Services Kerry McDonald said the money was funneled through the health department because the contract the county has with the state.

“A lot of the bioterrorism money is getting funneled through us and it is earmarked for specific purposes,” she said.

The Emergency Operations Center will not serve just the health department, Case said. In an emergency, most county operations will happen in the center.

“Many events that would happen to us as emergency events would not be bioterrorism events,” Case said.

Events such as earthquakes could make it impossible for communication over the phone lines. In the event of an outbreak of diseases such as avian flu or small pox, the new phone will provide a real time connection to the Centers for Disease Control, Case said.

The phone’s satellite receiver also allows the health department to receive instructional videos and lessons to train its employees, Case said.

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