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Emily Ward

State Planning Director, Minnesota Department of Health

Emily Ward
In early March, the World Health Organization officially declared the novel coronavirus to be a pandemic. Some experts said it was only a matter of time. Fortunately, Minnesota is prepared to offer a rapid response for dispensing disease-specific medication, should a vaccine become available. Much of the thanks for this readiness goes to Emily Ward.

As planning director for the state Department of Health and director of emergency preparedness and response, Ward brings an impressive background to her role making sure Minnesotans are ready for disaster. She served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 19 years, most recently with the Operational Medicine and Quality Improvement Division, holds a master’s degree in security technologies, and is also Minnesota’s Strategic National Stockpile Coordinator.  

Taken together, it makes sense that Ward was the main driver behind the state’s two point of dispensing (POD) apps — POD PreCheck and POD Locator — that would be activated during a pandemic to provide the appropriate medication. Ward partnered with the Minnesota IT Services Department to develop the apps.

When a threat is recognized, the governor or a designee calls for the medication’s distribution, and it arrives in the state within 12 hours and is placed in strategic locations. Residents then use the Locator app to find their nearest POD, the best routes to the location, traffic patterns and where to park. They can use the PreCheck app to plug in information — such as what other meds they may be on — to find out what dose they need and show that information at the POD.

“It’s 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 rise of coronavirus in early 2020 posed a potential use for the system, but Ward said that’s not yet the case, as there isn’t yet a medical countermeasure on the market. “Things may change as time goes on, though,” she said, “and it’s certainly a rapidly evolving situation.”
Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine.