New York City has been getting ready for a massive anthrax attack -- even if it never happens.
The Department of Health conducted a drill Saturday to test city preparedness to distribute antibiotics and vaccines to large numbers of New Yorkers.
"This is aimed at getting medication to a large number of people as quickly as possible,'' said city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, who oversaw the exercise in the gymnasium of the Marta Valle Secondary School on the Lower East Side.
In case of a public health emergency or outbreak of disease, about 200 such sites -- called Points of Dispensing or PODs -- would be used for administering the drugs.
Farley acknowledged that practicing the distribution of medication at one site cannot duplicate the experience citywide because "each emergency is different.'' But he said health officials have been perfecting the drill since the fall of 2001.
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, five people were killed and several others sickened through mailings of anthrax spores. Anthrax-laced letters surfaced in several places, including New York City. NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, two U.S. senators and the offices of the New York Post were among the targets.
Last year, troubled government scientist Bruce Ivins killed himself as prosecutors prepared to indict him as the culprit. But since his death, skeptics have questioned the FBI's work. And a panel of scientific experts began an examination last month of the agency's research.
In the scenario Saturday afternoon, participants imagined the release of an airborne anthrax, with antibiotics serving as a preventative measure, not a treatment. Volunteers and city workers acted the roles of actual New York residents lining up to receive their doses.
In an actual attack, each site would be staffed with about 100 health professionals, volunteers and city workers using pre-packaged supplies delivered from city warehouses and labs. The packages would include medication, medical screening forms that people must fill out, and signs for the sites in the various languages spoken in New York.