In July 2013, Public Health conducted an emergency preparedness exercise at Henry Sibley High School. "Operation Big Box" tested plans for setting up a medication center, or Point of Dispensing (POD) site, where county residents would pick up medicine during a disease outbreak.
More than 100 people volunteered to act as residents coming to pick up “medication” for their family (an empty medicine bottle). More than 120 Public Health staff, Medical Reserve Corps volunteers and personnel from other local health departments staffed stations that screened people for drug allergies or other factors, dispensing the appropriate medication and provided education.
Additional support activities included security, first aid, client assistance, and behavioral health. An Operations Center coordinated planning, communications, and logistics. During the 90-minute exercise, medication for 733 people was dispensed. The exercise identified a number of strengths as well as areas for improvement in Public Health response plans.
For the past year, Public Health staff have been training and working on detailed plans and procedures with staff from the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area Schools (ISD 197), Mendota Heights Police Department, and other county departments, including the Sheriff’s Office, Fleet Management, Communications, Risk Management, Corrections, Social Services, and Facilities Management. The Salvation Army, HealthEast EMS, Medical Reserve Corps volunteers, and local HAM radio operators also participated, along with staff from the Minnesota Department of Health and metro public health departments. Funding from a federal emergency preparedness grant provided financial support for the exercise.