Twin Cities Postal Anthrax Drill Finds Strengths, Problems
The largest ever door-to-door postal delivery of replica anthrax medicine bottles in the country "successfully" reached 95 percent of targeted homes in the Twin Cities while also identifying shortcomings, such as confusing command and control "gaps" that delayed the movement of some delivery teams as precious minutes ticked by, according to a newly released summary of a "non-public" state report.
"We've had a priority to make sure that if something like (an anthrax attack) were to happen on a large scale," explained Jane Braun, director of emergency preparedness for the Minnesota Department of Health, "that we were ready to protect the public."
"(In) situations like this, time is the most important factor," Braun said.
On Tuesday, Braun shared with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS a summary of the after-action report on Operation Medicine Delivery, a drill conducted the first weekend in May that used postal carriers to deliver empty medicine bottles on a Sunday to simulate how a mass distribution of prophylaxis would work. The summary report had not been previously released.
"We hope we would never have to use this, because it would be a very bad day," Braun said in an interview. "But we want to make sure that we fulfill our obligation that we feel to protect the citizens quickly if something is going on."
The report lists six "strengths" and four "areas for improvement."
Among the strengths:
- Ninety-five percent of addresses (32,998 of 34,672 locations in four zip codes) received the simulated supplies of anthrax medicine;
- Agencies successfully alerted the public ahead of time that the drill was occurring;
- Commanders were able to adequately communicate with each other; &
- Delivery teams were able to improvise when unexpected problems cropped up.
Among the areas for improvement:
- Teams in St. Paul and Minneapolis used different terminology, including call signs, which created "uncertainty" as to what was occurring;
- Commanders were slow to re-deploy delivery teams, costing carriers at times up to 40 minutes;
- Teams had up to four bosses, leaving it unclear who was ultimately in charge of certain decisions, leading the report to call for "greater clarity," on who has authority for reallocating or de-mobilizing delivery teams.
The summary report was completed by a contractor, hired by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a Minnesota health department spokesman said.
The Minnesota Department of Health has denied KSTP-TV's request, first made in June, for a complete copy of the final report, citing "security information" contained in the report and stating that the document is still in its draft form. In the alternative, KSTP-TV has asked for a redacted version of the final report, a request that was also denied.
Citing the state's public records law, the station has asked the department to reconsider its decision.
Watch our story above to learn more about Operation Medicine Delivery.
Click here to read the summary report.