Corporations lend staff for disaster drill

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FOREST PARK, Ga. - More than two dozen major employers lent some of their workers for a disaster drill Thursday that federal officials say could be the model for national preparedness.

If terrorists were to release the deadly anthrax bacteria, public-health officials said they wouldn't have the manpower to distribute needed antibiotics within the critical 48 hours to all 300,000 Clayton County residents.

Some cities have planned to use homeowner associations or letter carriers to deliver the medications to homes. But a group of executives anticipated the need three years ago and hired consultants to figure out a better way.

The Business Executives for National Security realized the economy could come to a standstill if the public was too afraid to leave their homes for work or shopping, or as they joke, "Being dead is bad for business."

The plan, put into action Thursday, called for teams of corporate volunteers to receive just one hour of training and then begin screening hundreds of patients, dispensing medicines and providing dosage instructions.

"I succeeded when the doors opened. That's the first thing," said Tom Bennett, emergency-preparedness director for Clayton County, one of five volunteer test sites.

All 45 volunteers were promised they and their families would be among the first to get the medications in a real emergency.

The drill provided some helpful insights for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in nearby Decatur. Stephanie Dulin, who oversees the CDC's Strategic National Stockpile that would deliver the drugs to the communities, was impressed. Pretending to be a patient picking up a supply of medications for her family, she could not tell the difference between the corporate volunteers and the paid public-health staff.

"The lessons that we will learn from these five exercises going on through the metro area, and likewise with the mirror process in Los Angeles, what our hope is that we'll take those lessons learned and be able to disseminate them throughout the nation to give other public health departments the opportunities and give them strategies for approaching other corporate volunteers," she said. "Public health can't do this job by itself."


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