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NORMAL - If the plague ever came to Central Illinois, McLean County wants to be prepared.

That's why several government agencies teamed with local emergency response personnel to host the first mock public health drill Saturday morning at Illinois State University's Horton Fieldhouse.

"Hopefully we never have a real incident," said Bob Keller, director of the McLean County Health Department. "But it's a good idea to exercise our plans and adapt as we go to practice for an event like this."

The health department had the help of McLean County Emergency Management Agency and volunteers from 15 different organizations, companies, agencies or schools to play roles in the drill.

About 200 students, mostly nursing students from Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities, played victims exposed to Pneumonic plague, a contagious disease contracted by breathing in plague bacteria.

Their symptoms were evaluated, as well as their medical histories and then medicine was administered.

"Part of what we're doing is to give medical personnel the experience they need to gain, and learn how their expertise might benefit the community in a situation like this," said Kathleen Davis, communication specialist for McLean County Health Department.

Melissa Taylor, a senior nursing student at IWU, played the part of a 26-year-old female with a history of epilepsy. After entering a line to be treated, she fell on the ground, shaking, while friends held her head still.

"I think it's good to practice something like this so we're actually prepared," she said. "Because it's something that could happen, so it's good to be well organized."

Taylor had been through the line three times so far, playing various roles.

Denise Hunt, a registered nurse with the health department, was serving as the team leader of the special needs station. Hunt assisted Taylor during her pretend seizure.

"Unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do when someone is having a seizure. I just tried to get everyone away from her so she didn't hurt herself," Hunt said.

Hunt said her role involves dealing with victims who are elderly, injured or disabled, who cannot wait in long lines to be treated.

"We can screen them and give them medication all right here," she said.

Hunt said the drill was necessary to find out how much staff is needed to handle a situation of this type of magnitude and what improvements need to be made in current planning.

"It helps us learn to work with and coordinate with police, fire and other agencies," she said.

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