Simulation exercises are extremely useful for testing and refining contingency plans in advance of any disease emergency. They are also a valuable way of building teams for emergency disease responses and training individual staff.
Realistic disease outbreak scenarios should be devised for the exercises, using real data where possible (e.g. for livestock locations, populations and trading routes). A scenario may cover one or more time phases during the outbreak, with a range of possible outcomes. However, neither the scenario nor the exercise should be too complicated or too long. It is best to test just one system at a time (e.g. operation of a Local Animal Disease Control Centre). Simulation exercises may be undertaken purely as a paper exercise or as mock activities, or combining both approaches. At the completion of each simulation exercise there should be a "postmortem" of the results. Such a review will identify areas where plans have to be modified as well as further training needs.
A full-scale disease outbreak simulation exercise should only be attempted after individual components of the disease control response have been tested and proved. Any earlier exercise of this nature may be counterproductive. Care must be taken that simulation exercises are not confused with actual outbreaks in the minds of the media and the public. Neighbouring countries and trading partners should be warned in advance so that there are no misunderstandings.
All staff should be thoroughly trained in their roles, duties and responsibilities in an FMD emergency. More intense training will obviously need to be given to those in key positions. It should also be borne in mind that any staff member, from the CVO downwards, may be absent or may need to be relieved during a disease emergency for one reason or another. Backup staff should therefore be trained for each position.
Contingency plans, once prepared, should not be treated as static entities but be regarded as living documents that need to be regularly reviewed and updated as warranted by changing circumstances. Plans should be reviewed at least annually and more frequently if so required. In reviewing and updating FMD contingency plans, the following factors need to be taken into account:
changing epidemiological situations, both within the country and externally;
new FMD threats;
new scientific and technological developments;
changes in livestock production systems and trade requirements (internal or export);
changes in national legislation or in the structure or capabilities of government veterinary services (or other interested government parties);
experiences (both within the country and in neighbouring countries), results from training or simulation exercises and feedback from major stakeholders, including farmers.