U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and public health officials are pleased with the initial results of Operation Medicine Delivery, the first test run of a program to distribute emergency antibiotics to a population after a widespread biological attack.
Forty teams made up of one postal worker and one law enforcement escort delivered simulated medications to more than 35,000 households in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in less than 12 hours, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Most households in the designated ZIP codes were reached, said Buddy Ferguson, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
In one area, 76 addresses were missed because high water from heavy rains left a neighborhood inaccessible by vehicle, according to initial field reports. “If this was a real emergency we would message those folks and tell them they should go to a medical distribution center [later] instead,” said USPS spokesman Pete Nowacki.
In the event of a real emergency, local distribution centers would be the primary distribution method for prophylaxis drugs. The postal model is a way for responders “to hit some high density areas pretty quickly,” Nowacki said.
MDH and USPS are hesitant to release exact numbers before all of Sunday’s data can be analyzed but, agree that the postal model has showed its efficacy.
“We will be doing a thorough after action report with an improvement plan so there still a lot of work left to be done,” Ferguson said by phone on Tuesday. It could be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before an evaluation of the exercise is complete.
“We think that this exercise really established that the postal option is a viable way to get medicine to the public quickly in an emergency,” Ferguson said.
The CDC, HHS, five local law enforcement agencies, and three local public health organizations also participated in the exercise.
In response to an inquiry about the impact of its financial situation on its public health response capability, the USPS said, “Our participation with state and local agencies in the Cities Readiness Initiative is funded by the Federal government and is thus unrelated to our financial situation. We participate because we have the logistical capability to play a role in this important public safety and health initiative.”
photo by Hugo90/lfickr