Minn. exercise will measure anthrax response time by USPS

A bioterrorism simulation scheduled for Sunday will take place in the Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, area to determine how quickly the United States Postal Service can respond to an anthrax attack.

Operation Medicine Delivery is the first dry run of the USPS's anthrax response plan. The exercise was announced on Thursday at a joint press conference of the USPS and the Minnesota Department of Health, Security Management reports.

"We're going to be looking at how quickly it takes us to get the supply in and to different types of households - apartment buildings versus rural areas and areas where there's a significant walk to one place to another," Edward J. Gabriel, the principal deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said, according to Security Management.

The exercise will assess the process from the first confirmation of a simulated biological attack to medication delivery and debriefing. The exercise is mostly unscripted.

"The staging of the medication, placing them into the postal vehicles, the postal workers coming to work, the operation center monitoring the activities - all of it will be a part of the exercise," Gabriel said, according to Security Management. "We plan, but don't script it to the point where every variable is thought out ahead of time because we want to test how the process works."

The National Postal Model for the Delivery of Medical Countermeasures is the federal government's plan to deploy postal workers within 48 hours to deliver antibiotics to residents. Inhalation anthrax has a 90 percent mortality rate, but the rate drops to 75 percent if antibiotics are started within 48 hours.

To distribute medicine to the 575,000 people in households throughout the two cities, 180 volunteer carriers would be needed. The Minnesota program currently has over 300 volunteers.

"Will (the postal model) be a success?" Gabriel said, according to Security Management. "It's already a success. (In this exercise) we're looking to see what parts of the system can do better and what parts of the process can potentially be changed."