In a training exercise, the Frederick County Health Department practiced distributing medication to the public last week in a scenario in which thousands may have been exposed to aerosolized anthrax.
According to Barbara Rosvold, director of public health preparedness at the county health department, the drill went smoothly.
The practice scenario involved a widespread release of anthrax through the air, though the department did not specify a pretend source for the release.
In the scenario, the anthrax was detected by a sensor in Washington, D.C., necessitating an emergency action plan in the surrounding areas, Rosvold said.
Over two days, the department notified other county agencies, local institutions and nonprofits of the drill and that they could participate by picking up bulk packages of sample medication.
Organizations were notified on Tuesday. Medication was distributed on Wednesday.
More than two dozen partners in the drill included the county’s courthouse and detention center, Fort Detrick, Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center, the Maryland School for the Deaf and Frederick Memorial Hospital.
The county’s Meals on Wheels program signed up to distribute sample medication in the drill.
Kitty Devilbiss, community services manager of the Frederick County Department of Aging, oversees the program.
Seven Meals on Wheels volunteers who received emergency training participated in the drill. They picked up enough sample medication for 700 people and distributed it to their homebound clients, who are generally age 60 or older.
Devilbiss said they preferred to have their own volunteers distribute medication during the drill because they are familiar with their clients’ specific needs.
The clients were not notified ahead of time about the drill. Devilbiss said the volunteers would verbally explain the drill to them, but they also left a written explanation in case they or family members misunderstood their purpose.
“Clients would sometimes be a little confused,” Devilbiss said.
Distributors would hand people the sample medication, then take it back, Rosvold said.
The sample medication was labeled “ciprofloxacin,” which is an antibiotic, but would not necessarily be used in an anthrax exposure situation, Rosvold said. The bottles used in the drill were empty.
The county health department has run this type of drill about every 12 to 18 months over the past five years. Organizers altered the drill this year by training staff members at the pickup location on the day of the exercise.
“That went very well, [but] in fact, some of the people said we could run it through faster,” Rosvold said.