In the minutes before Code Orange was called, the contagion drill team at Paris Regional Medical Center gathered in the newly-remodeled, formerly-closed emergency department of the hospital’s South Campus.

When the call came, the members quickly went to work, manning their stations and checking their equipment, making calls to other team members and helping one another don their hazmat suits.

The drill tested the contagion protocols recently adopted by the hospital after Ebola made its first fatal appearance in the United States.

“We’ve been working on these plans for months,” said Jenci Garcia, facilitator of the drill, “since soon after the outbreak in Dallas and our own scare in the North Campus ER. A lot of work has gone into this.”

In the wake of an Ebola scenario drill in October, hospital officials determined the best course of actions was to focus their efforts on the vacant ER department at the South Campus, in the 800 block of Clarksville Street. The department, a self-contained area, was remodeled, ensuring access to the area could be more tightly controlled; the ventilation system was revamped; and a decontamination shower was fitted with a self-contained drainage system, to keep waste water that might be tainted with disease out of the city’s sewers. The redesign cost more than $70,000.

At a Northeast Texas Regional Action Council symposium at Love Civic Center, those in attendance witnessed the beginning of the drill, when three acting students from Paris Junior College set things in motion by simulating a 911 call to Paris EMS, claiming one of their “family” was seriously ill with what they feared was ebola.

Responding paramedics demonstrated how they would protect themselves and their patients in such a scenario — donning personal protective equipment before transferring the trio to the designated contagion center.

At the ER, the “patients” were met by a squad of hazmat-suited nurses, backed up by about 40 other members of the PRMC Ebola Team, made up of hospital administrators, doctors, infection control specialists and other support personnel. The supposed victims were taken step by step through the process of intake, treatment and transfer to a designated regional treatment center. As the team worked, they were followed by a cadre of observers, participants at the NETRAC symposium, hospital evaluators, city and county officials and the media.

“We welcome your participation in this drill,” said Stephen Grubbs, CEO of PRMC, at the hospital. “We invite your observations and critiques, and are proud our community leaders, such as Mayor Matt Frierson, are here to represent the city’s interests.”

In real time, the event could have lasted up to 72 hours, but the drill was completed in just over an hour, and a number of the observers and the ebola team returned to the civic center for an after-action briefing and critique session from the perspective of the healthcare workers and first responders at the conference.

Kristi Head, PRMC public relations office, said hospital administrators, department heads and members of the contagion team would hold a separate briefing on the drill within the next few days, evaluating the feedback they received from the observers — their own as well as those from the conference — to refine and adapt the contagion plan even further.