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New York City Health Department Tests the City's Preparedness for Biological Attack

New York City Health Department Tests the City's Preparedness for Biological Attack
Officials say it's the "largest no-notice emergency response exercise" in the city's history.

Some 1,500 city employees from over a dozen different agencies got a call early this morning, telling them to report to one of 30 designated sites to participate in RAMPEx, or Rapid Activation for Mass Prophylaxis Exercises. One of these people was Sharon Jay, a Department of Education employee.

"This is all a completely new process for me," Jay said on Friday.

Like many of the other staff members at one Point of Dispensing, or POD, site in Harlem, Jay was awaiting instruction and training on what her role would be. She said that was what would happen in the case of a real emergency, with staffers receiving what is called "Just in Time" training the day they are called in.

David Starr, director of countermeasure response for the department of health, led a group of reporters around the POD, located in a public school cafeteria. He explained the step-by-step of what would happen in the event of a real emergency.

You would come in to get screened for which antibiotic you need to take and if you have any severe allergic reactions to any medications. If staffers think you need further medical evaluation, a you get sent to that station, otherwise, your screening form gets reviewed, you pick up your medication, and you leave the POD site. Starr says the process should take about 10 minutes per person.

He said there would be about 100 staffers at a site like the one in Harlem, handling some 3,000 people an hour. Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city's first deputy commissioner of health, said efficiency is of the upmost importance and that's why tests like this one are necessary.

"The purpose of this is to see how effective we are at mobilizing staff from 13 different agencies, getting the antibiotics transported... other coordinating issues that could slow us down," Dr. Barbot said.

Even though the test medicine had not shown up by 11 o'clock, Starr assured those present this was only because it was not a real emergency and that overall, the exercise was going well.

"The police were escorting vehicles, but not going through red lights," Starr said. "They weren't clearing lanes, they weren't shutting down tunnels. So I think today's exercise is about coordination because we can't really test the speed until there's a real emergency when all that's in play."

The results of the test, which included 30 of the 165 POD sites in the city, will allow the Health Department assess the coordination between the different agencies.