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Bioterror Medicine: County Hones Response to Simulated Attack

NEWARK, N.J.-- Middlesex County (N.J.) Public Health Department officials are big believers in being prepared.

Two years ago the department took part in a massive anti-terrorism drill, dubbed Top Off. In 2006, the department teamed up with the U.S. Postal Service to test its response to a simulated anthrax attack.

The latest exercise was staged early yesterday in New Brunswick and South Plainfield for first responders -- the police, fire, health and emergency service personnel who would be the first on scene in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

The drill tested the county s plans for the bulk distribution of medication to thousands of first responders. Under yesterday s scenario, terrorists unleashed anthrax in the area and antibiotics had to be dispensed to 6,000 first responders and their families, said David Papi, the county public health director.

Papi said the county administration building and a site in South Plainfield served as the bulk distribution points. He said his department had previously surveyed the county s 25 towns and determined 23,000 doses were necessary to safeguard all the first responders and their households.

This program protects them so they can protect all of us, said Freeholder Christopher Rafano.

Freeholder John Pulomena, who oversees the health department, said the drill capped months of preparation and planning by county and local officials.

This protection will afford us the opportunity to continue to deliver the needed emergency services to our residents, Pulomena said. We ve learned the importance of being prepared.

While empty boxes of medication were handed out during the drill, Papi explained that if a natural disaster or terrorist attack occurred, first responders would be allowed to dispense drugs in their own households to keep them safe and ready to help the public. During the drill, the county also simulated distribution of single doses of medication to health personnel working at the county administration building and at the public health clinics in New Brunswick.

What we learned today will be put to the test again, Freeholder Director David Crabiel said. We will strive to continue to refine and test our plans so that we can be better prepared for tomorrow.

Diane C. Walsh may be reached at dwalsh@starledger.com or (732) 404-8087.

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