The Orange County Board of Supervisors is being asked today to approve $4.9 million that will help the county’s Health Care Agency prepare for the worst.

Each year the county signs an agreement with the California Health Department to receive more than $4 million in mainly federal funds to plan for everything from widespread earthquake injuries to a massive flu epidemic to bioterrorism.

Holly Veale, manager of the Orange County Health Care Agency’s health disaster management division, said the role of health departments in general changed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Now health planning, she said, includes actively leading programs, including working with all of the county hospitals to determine how many patients they could care for if there were a surge of injuries following a major earthquake.

A different kind of surge, one, for example, caused by a sweeping influenza outbreak might cause the hospitals to drastically increase the number of patients with breathing problems.

The program also trains hospital and other emergency workers in decontamination techniques and how to respond to potential attacks from weapons of mass destruction.

In addition, the county maintains a large emergency supply of pharmaceuticals, trains health workers and supports a laboratory that tracks trends in local diseases, watching for those that could quickly spread.

“It’s a very ambitious plan,” she said.

— TRACY WOOD

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