Anthrax, Pandemics and Privatization of Public Health Emergency

Published Sept. 13, 2008 by South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

That’s the idea behind a federal program organized by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in 72 metropolitan areas nationwide, including
Broward and Palm Beach counties, in which local agencies or volunteers
dispense medication and information in the event of a major public health
emergency.

Plans vary city to city, but hundreds of volunteers and Broward County
Health Department employees are set up to operate 75 strategically placed
points of distributing, or PODs, around the county, some public, some private.
More than 5,000 volunteers are being sought in each county. In Broward County,
about 55 percent to 60 percent of the needed volunteers have stepped forward.
In Palm Beach County, only a few hundred have signed up.

In both counties, emergency officials are making efforts to create private
PODs at churches, colleges, businesses and homeowner associations. In Broward,
one university and five businesses have signed agreements. Palm Beach County
expects to have 25 agreements by October, all with condos or gated
communities.

At least one medical professional and 20 volunteers are necessary to run a
single private POD. All neighborhoods or community institutions are able to
apply. First responders, POD volunteers and their families receive first
doses

Adam Yanckowitz, director of the office of Emergency Operations for the
Broward Health Department, insists that Broward could fill in gaps by asking
city employees across the county to volunteer.

“There would be a lot of just-in-time training,” Yanckowitz said. “I’m
confident enough in the jurisdiction that we work with here in Broward County
that any required staffing needs would be filled by those agencies.

“If you take a situation in any scenario in which you have to dispense
medication to the populace, you’re looking at 1.8 million people,” he said.
“That’s a bad day. That’s a bad couple of days.”

PODs were organized in the wake of the 2001 anthrax attacks, the largest
bio-terror attack in American history. Anthrax-laced letters were discovered
in a Boca Raton office building, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. The
case was closed last month after Army scientist Bruce Ivins, a prime suspect,
committed suicide.

Val Coz likes the idea of having a center close to her home. She plans to
volunteer at a private POD in her Ocean Ridge neighborhood in Palm Beach
County.

Like Bob Stevens, who died from inhaling anthrax, Coz and her husband were
editors at tabloid publisher American Media Inc.’s building in Boca Raton.

“I realized how complicated it can get during a major health crisis and I
thought the idea of a POD was really brilliant,” Coz said. “So that if there
were a massive health crisis again where people needed to stand in line for
medication or information needed to be distributed on a large-scale level it
would be far more efficient if we could do it within our own town.”

The idea of a private POD is to alleviate pressure on public sites and keep
people close to home.

Private PODs were introduced about a year ago.

People can go there for information or medicine from the nation’s Strategic
National Stockpile of antibiotics, anti-virals or antidotes in the event of
emergencies such as a radiological episode, smallpox or avian flu outbreak or
anthrax attack.

POD locations are kept secret under the Homeland Security Act. In the event
of an emergency, officials will establish public service announcements and
hotlines to inform the public where to go.

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