Please Help EHS by Participating in the Bioterrorism Response Drill This Week

By Samuel Lopez, staff writer
Photo of people standing in line

Waiting in line usually isn’t the way to prepare for a life-or-death situation, but this Friday will be an exception.

NCI at Frederick will take part in an exercise that tests how quickly it could distribute antibiotics to employees, families, and visitors in response to a simulated bioterrorism anthrax attack in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Employees will be asked to go to Building 426, fill out a two-question form, briefly wait in line, and pick up the “pill bottles.”

Participation is voluntary, but the Environment, Health, and Safety Directorate (EHS)—which is supervising the exercise—needs at least 50 people and is asking everyone on the NCI at Frederick campus to participate.

Adding to the gravity, NCI at Frederick is participating as part of Capital Fortitude, a larger regional effort to coordinate the exercise simultaneously in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The lessons learned at NCI at Frederick won’t just affect local staff—they’ll be pooled with those of nearly two dozen other participating sites to refine a preparedness and response plan that would affect the lives of millions of people in an emergency.

Participants at NCI at Frederick will be rewarded for their help. According to Ron Kunz, emergency manager in EHS, each person will receive a “sweet treat” after completing the exercise.

How to Participate

Arrive at Building 426 between 11:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. this Friday, July 19, and enter through the main entrance (Miller Drive).

EHS sent all staff a link to the two-question form earlier this week. If you’re able, fill it out and bring it with you; doing so will lessen the time it takes you to complete the exercise. If you aren’t able, forms will be on hand for you to complete during the exercise.

The time commitment will be minimal. Kunz aims to have each employee finish the exercise in five minutes or less, as speed would be crucial in the aftermath of a bioterrorist attack.

Because the exercise is only a simulation, participants will return the pill bottles before leaving.

More Information

In a real attack, NCI at Frederick would be among hundreds of sites in the metropolitan area that mobilize to provide antibiotics. Within Frederick County, it would be one of more than a dozen that collaborate to help the estimated 255,000 local residents. However, it would be a closed point of dispensing, meaning that it would provide antibiotics only to its approximately 3,000 employees and their families.

The closed system aims to ease the strain on other points of dispensing, like Frederick County’s 10 high schools. Kunz estimates that, by providing for its employees, NCI at Frederick would reduce the county’s burden by at least 9,000 residents—individuals who wouldn’t have to crowd other distribution sites and create traffic and longer lines. This would be invaluable in the face of an anthrax attack, where people would need to receive their antibiotics and take the first dose within two days of exposure to the bacteria.

“[There’s] the sheer amount of people you have to get done, because anthrax develops in 24 hours,” said Michael Sarnecky, one of Kunz’s Werner H. Kirsten student interns.

Sarnecky and Kunz’s other intern, Clarissa Bazan, helped plan the upcoming exercise at NCI at Frederick. They will co-supervise operations on Friday.

“I didn’t even know these [points of dispensing] were a thing,” Bazan said, explaining that she has learned much since starting her internship three weeks ago. “It’s nice to have this little portion of it and take the burden off of the high schools.”

Sarnecky agreed.

“I’d just like to see [the exercise] work,” he said.