Minnesota Apps Would Help Dispense Meds in Anthrax or Pandemic Scare

The Health and IT Services departments collaborated to develop the POD PreCheck and the POD Locator apps if the state needs to distribute medication to the public quickly, such as during an anthrax attack at a large event.

by Jim McKay / November 8, 2019

In case of an anthrax attack in a metropolitan area or at something like the Super Bowl, anyone effected would need to get antibiotics within 48 hours to keep from getting sick from anthrax exposure.

It could be a chaotic situation, but the Minnesota Department of Health and partners developed a remedy of sorts in applications to guide citizens through the process of screening for the needed treatment and locating the necessary meds. The applications could also be used for other scenarios, such as an influenza pandemic.

The idea originated back in 2015, when local and tribal health leaders expressed a need for a technological tool to help with the process of getting medicines out to people quickly in case of an emergency scenario.

At the time, Emily Ward, Minnesota Department of Health planning director and director of emergency preparedness and response, was the department’s Strategic National Stockpile coordinator, a program formerly run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and now by the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). This program can dispense medication to any U.S. state or territory within 12 hours.

Ward partnered with the IT Services Department to develop the two applications, POD PreCheck and POD Locator apps. POD is point of dispensing — a location where the state will dispense the necessary medication in an emergency.

The state acts as a middleman of sorts, requesting the medication from ASPR, then disseminating it.

“Once we realize that something has happened, the governor or a designee can request that ASPR send out medication that can be distributed,” Ward said. “They will get it anywhere in 12 hours, using whatever transportation mechanisms they need to get it there.”

At that point, the state Health Department takes control of the medication, storing it in a “receive, stage, store” warehouse. The state then distributes the medication to local and tribal health departments. “So, it might be five or 10 counties, or it might be a pandemic so it might be the entire state,” Ward said.

Before residents go to a POD, they would need to get on the POD PreCheck app to find out exactly what they need and how much. Then they’d get on the POD Locator app and find a location to get the medication.

“What the PreCheck does is allows the public to self-screen, so they can go onto the site and in a minute or two, depending on if they’re aware of what medications they are taking, answer nine questions and add their name and address, and print out a form to take to the POD site,” Ward said. “The form has the medication they can safely receive and the dosage.”

The POD is “like a polling place,” Ward said. Whether it’s a school or other location, it’s only used for this reason during an incident. The locations aren’t known by the public in advance because some may be closer to a particular incident than others, one may have construction nearby making it a poor choice, etc.

“We can turn them off and on quickly,” Ward said. “If one is ready to receive the public, we can add it and if it gets overwhelmed or has a long line, we can take it off and direct people to another POD.”

The locator app also allows the state to communicate additional information about the POD, such as where to park, transit routes, traffic pattern changes.

A public information campaign would have to be undertaken and some of the planning for that has been ongoing. Public messaging would take on an Incident Command System structure in the Department of Health operation center and the state EOC. Ward said information would be pushed out multiple ways in Hmong, Somali, Spanish and English and to the deaf and blind.

The CDC determines the planning scenario for the Department of Health and the next scenario is an influenza pandemic. “The application is architected in such a way that it would support any scenario, any disease; you just have to provide the questions,” said Joseph Pugh, development operations supervisor with Minnesota IT Services.

A full-scale exercise is being planned for June 2020, using these apps and exercising PODS across Minnesota to plan for a pandemic.

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