Report on anthrax antibiotic postal delivery plan released

In May, the Minnesota Department of Health, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Postal Service, ran the first full-scale test of Operation Medicine Delivery, a bioresponse plan that would rely on postal workers to deliver the first dose of antibiotics after a large-scale biological attack.

According to a summary of the action released by the MDH, of 33,000 addresses, workers were unable to deliver to approximately 1,600 households, Security Management reports.

Operation Medicine Deliver took place on Friday, May 4. Under the scenario of the simulation, the antibiotics were delivered on a Friday, after "evidence" of a biological terrorist attack on Minneapolis-St.Paul were discovered and the agent was "laboratory-confirmed" as anthrax.

In under 12 hours, 40 teams made of up one postal worker and one law enforcement escort delivered simulated medication to approximately 33,000 households in the area, according to Security Management.

Jude Plessas, a countermeasures distribution and delivery manager at the USPS, identified the postal service as an ideal means of delivery for such an operation due to its ability to reach all addresses. Initial field reports, though, note that some homes were missed during the simulated operation. A final report confirmed that 1,674 homes were missed due to such difficulties as dangerous dogs and mil slots too small to deliver the medication through. Additionally, one neighborhood was inaccessible due to high water from heavy rains.

"If this was a real emergency we would message those folks and tell them they should go to a medical distribution center [later] instead," USPS spokesman Pete Nowacki said after the exercise, Security Management reports.

The operation's major strengths include communication with the public prior to the exercise, command operations, law enforcement participation and response to "real world incidents," such as flat tires and traffic congestion. The reports said more clarity was needed regarding who has authority to reallocate teams after a delivery and what terminology would be used to indicate route completion.

USPS and public health officials view the initial results as a success.

"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," MDH spokesman Buddy Ferguson said during an interview in May, Security Management reports.

Operation Medicine Deliver will be used to establish baseline metrics for the National Postal Model, according to a report released on Tuesday.

"The lessons learned during the planning process and identified throughout exercise play will help inform other jurisdictions that are beginning to incorporate the Postal Plan model into their mass prophylaxis plans," the report said, Security Management reports.

The non-public after-action report is still in draft form.