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Responding to a mystery epidemic in the Pacific

He urupare ki te mate urutā tauhou i te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa

Wednesday 12 February 2020

The evening "Experts Talk" event by Professors Nick Wilson, Raina MacIntyre and Michael Baker can now be viewed at The Emerging Coronavirus Epidemic

This exercise provides a highly interactive training opportunity for anyone involved in investigating and managing emerging health threats. It takes participants through all phases of a major public health incident involving a biothreat. The scale of the threat requires a multi-agency response that includes health, police, emergency response and defence force personnel.

The exercise was developed by the Australian Centre for Research Excellence on Integrated Systems for Epidemic Response (ISER). It has been refined following use with a wide range of participants.

The exercise begins in a medium-sized Pacific country but rapidly involves regional and international agencies so is applicable to any modern country. It alternates between clinical, public health, emergency and societal responses, with participants discussing cross-sectoral capability in responding collaboratively across the region and the world.

The scenario is highly plausible and is supported by research and mathematical modelling to simulate the epidemic under different conditions and to test the effect of interventions. It allows participants to identify ways of influencing the course of the epidemic and its final size.

Topics covered

  1. Recognising and assessing an emerging public health hazard
  2. Coordinating and managing an initial response
  3. Managing the longer-term response and recovery stage
  4. Implications for improved preparedness for biothreats in the Asia-Pacific region and globally
  5. The importance of public health infrastructure, including intelligence, legislation and law enforcement, workforce and capacity for social mobilisation

Style of course

This course is run as a table-top exercise. It is highly interactive and involves a real-world scenario that unfolds during the course of the day to explore decision making at each stage. It includes highly-developed audio-visual material to illustrate the simulation.

Who should attend?

This exercise is designed to have multidisciplinary participants, particularly those involved in responding to complex emergencies, notably public health, police, defence and emergency services personnel.

By the end of this course participants should have the knowledge/skills to:

  • Understand the special features of a significant biothreat event
  • Be able to identify the critical tasks involved in responding to a major new emerging hazard
  • Understand how and why some interventions are more or less effective at mitigating an epidemic
  • Have an improved understanding of how to prevent pandemics
  • Have an improved understanding of the inclusive and collaborative approaches that are needed by the first response sectors

Draft timetable

Time Session Presenter(s)
8:30am Registration  
9:00am Introductions by participants  
Introduction to the exercise  
Initial stages of the outbreak and immediate response  
10:30am Morning tea  
11:00am Exercise continues  
Evolving response  
Assessment of interventions and their effectiveness  
12:30pm Lunch break  
1:30pm Exercise continues  
Later stages of response and recovery  
Major lessons from response  
3:00pm Afternoon tea  
3:30pm Exercise conclusion  
Improving prevention and response to biothreats  
Discussion and evaluation  
5:00pm Finish  


  • Professor Raina MacIntyre, Head of the Biosecurity Research Program, Kirby Institute, UNSW, Sydney; Professor of Global Biosecurity; Principal Research Fellow at the Australian NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence on Integrated Systems for Epidemic Response (ISER); and a practicing Public health physician
    Professor MacIntyre is one of the world’s leading researchers on biosecurity and the public health response to biosecurity threats. She has written extensively on this topic, and has led development of this exercise to provide a vivid way of communicating ideas about the potential scale of biological hazards and how we should respond to them.
  • Associate Professor David Heslop, Associate Professor at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at UNSW; practicing General Practitioner (FRACGP); Occupational and Environmental Physician (FAFOEM) with RACP; Chief Investigator of ISER from UNSW Medicine’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine.
    Dr Heslop has advanced training in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Medicine and experience in planning for and management of major disasters, mass casualty and multiple casualty situations.

Course cost and registration

$300 early bird, $400 after 19 December 2019.

A 50% discount is available to full-time students, those unwaged and University of Otago staff.

Register now