An anthrax attack may not be on the top of most Alabamians’ list of potential disasters.
But today, police, fire and public health officials in Jefferson County put to the test their action plan in the unlikely case of a major chemical or medical emergency that requires the dispensing of life-saving medications to a large population.
The site was Fultondale Elementary School, where tactical officers from that city’s police department cleared a section of the building before officials and volunteers from the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) moved in. EMA and JCDH employees quickly set up a “Point of Dispensing” or POD site where they could distribute medications on a large scale to protect the public’s health.
Julie Cobb, a registered nurse with the Emergency Preparedness and Response Division at JCDH, called the exercise a unique opportunity to train with local law enforcement and practice for something like an anthrax terrorist attack. “If such an event were to occur, public health cannot safely dispense the medication without the assistance and expertise of local law enforcement agencies,” Cobb said.
Also participating or observing the exercise were officials with the Jefferson County Board of Education (BOE), Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and other local municipal and police organizations. Additional POD exercises are expected to be scheduled in other locations around the county.
“Hopefully, there will not be a need to implement the plan, but we always want to be as prepared as possible, just in case,” said Ken Storie, director of safety with Jefferson County BOE.
The exercise was supported in part through the Cities Readiness Initiative, a federally funded effort to prepare major U.S. cities and metropolitan areas to effectively respond to large-scale public health emergencies by dispensing life-saving medications and medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile to their entire identified population within 48 hours of the decision to do so. In Jefferson County, the most populous county in the state, more than 660,000 residents could need medication in the case of a large-scale emergency. Officials have identified 17 sites in Jefferson County that would serve as POD locations in the case of a major crisis.
Today’s exercise was one of the first in the county to feature a full-scale security sweep prior to POD site setup. It will serve as the model for other exercises in Jefferson County going forward.