The Rensselaer County Department of Health ran a point of distribution (POD) drill in the McDonough Sports Complex on Friday, May 1, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The event consisted of about 100 Rensselaer County staff simulating a massive distribution of medical supplies. The staff at the event were joined by over 500 volunteers, who played the role of patients.
According to Mary Fran Wachunas, public health director of Rensselaer County, drills of this sort are conducted to prepare for a possible catastrophic outbreak. “Since September 11th, 2001, local health departments have been given grants to prepare our residents for any sort of bio-terrorism,” said Wachunas. “Today, we are simulating an anthrax attack.”
According to Wachunas, there are over 159,000 residents within the jurisdiction of the Rensselaer County Department of Health. “We have to dispense medication within 48 hours,” she said. “To do this we have a department of 47 people to help us do this.”
The POD drill held at Hudson Valley is the largest simulation that the Rensselaer County Department of Health has undertaken this year. This is primarily because the City of Troy, with a population of 50,000, was encompassed by the drill’s target area.
“What we have done is asked for volunteers from various parts of the county, as well as community partners,” said Wachunas. POD drills of this scale are held once every few years, according to Wachunas, though the Rensselaer County Department of Health perform smaller exercises year round.
“These drills are very necessary,” said Wachunas. “After September 11th, we realized that we could have this sort of attack in our country, and we need to be prepared to protect our citizens. These drills strengthen our infrastructure and make us more prepared. Most importantly, they help us network with our community partners.”
The community partners mentioned include Hudson Valley, law enforcement agencies, and local hospitals. “We don’t have enough staff to do this by ourselves,” said Wachunas. “We have to network with our community partners constantly. One of our missions on a daily basis is to branch out.”
The drill conducted at Hudson Valley was open to the public for participation, according to Wachunas. The Rensselaer County Department of Health also conducts a number of closed POD drills every year. The purpose of closed POD drills is to train a certain group of people, such as a business or university, to conduct its own emergency distribution exercises.