You know how much of a hassle it can be to get medication when you are ill. First, you have to go to the doctor and get an exam. Once you get the prescription, you go to the pharmacy to fill it. And if you’re a graduate student like me, you hope you have enough money to pay for the pills. However, in a public health emergency (say an anthrax release), it would be even worse. There would be long lines and limited doses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has come up with a program to avoid this situation called the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). SNS is stashes of critical medicines and medical supplies established to protect the American public if there is a public health emergency large enough to cause local supplies to run out. This means that if there were a disaster, SNS would ship its supplies wherever it’s needed in the U.S. It’s fast and free.
Where would you go to get your medication in an emergency? You would go to a Point of Dispensing (POD). You won’t need a prescription or your credit card. Pick up your pills, take them as directed, and you won’t get sick. It’s prophylactic medicine. If you’re already ill, you’ll need medical attention at a hospital or clinic.
Simple? Well, emergency planners try to make it look easy, but there is a LOT of planning that must happen long before an emergency occurs to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. I learned this when I was part of a POD planning team. We researched, wrote, and revised (and reviewed, revised, researched, and revised some more) a plan to distribute medication to our employees in the case of an emergency. Many other employers have similar plans to distribute medications to their employees. PODs run by local health departments will be stocked and available to everyone.
When I learned that SORT students had the chance to attend a Law Enforcement Summit on this topic, I jumped at the chance to learn more about the security aspects of PODs. The Law Enforcement Summit added a lot to my understanding of how POD security operates. One of the first things I noticed was the large number of law enforcement agencies present at the summit. The U.S. Marshals Service, Georgia State Patrol, and numerous local law enforcement agencies came together to plan security for distributing and dispensing SNS supplies. A lot of people need to be involved to develop a reliable plan.
Some of the issues considered included crowd control, directing parking, security sweeps of the PODs, active shooter planning, security during transportation of the medicine from the warehouse to the PODs, and what to do if a security breach happens.
As a participant in this summit, I furthered my emergency preparedness planning experience and met local law enforcement and planning leaders. To learn more about the Strategic National Stockpile, visit http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/stockpile/stockpile.htm.
Dara Burris is a second year epidemiology student and SORT member since Fall of 2013.