Twin Cities to test terror attack plan May 6

by Molly Novak

On May 6 residents of the Twin Cities can expect to find an empty pill bottle in their mail boxes as a test drive to an antibiotic delivery system in the event of a bioterrorist attack in Minnesota.

According to a report by the Star Tribune, the United Postal Service and the Minnesota Department of Health have teamed up to test a delivery method of antibiotics, called "Operation Medicine Delivery." The test was created as an answer to the question posed to health officials since 9/11: How would millions of people get the medicine to survive an airborne anthrax attack?

More than 300 mail carriers will participate in the test, reaching four neighborhoods, 37,000 households, in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Robbinsdale and Golden Valley.

The goal is to test the effectiveness of the delivery method of medication to most people within the first 48 hours of a bioterror attack, according to the Star Tribune. Health officials will determine if the idea, funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Postal Service, could work under realistic public health concerns after a period of evaluation.

The Twin Cities experiment will be the first large-scale test of the delivery, which has also been tested on a smaller scale in Boston, Philadelphia and Seattle, reported the Star Tribune.

The average mail carrier reaches 400 households in a day, said Postal Service spokesman Pete Nowacki to the Star Tribune, so delivery "is the easy part.''

But the workers had to go through hours of safety training and preparation, which included being fitted with protective masks. Local law enforcement officials will be on hand during the test to escort the postal workers, as they would be in a true emergency.

Minnesota health officials began development of the idea in 2004 and said they expect this test drive of the method to be watched by other states.

The biggest logistical concern has been informing the communities about the simulation. They have been notifying residents to expect the empty bottles and to recycle them.