Federal public health officials will have their eyes on Minnesota on May 6, when local postal workers and the Minnesota Department of Health distribute pill bottles to about 37,000 households in the Twin Cities.
The emergency planning exercise is aimed and finding out how well it would work for the U.S. Postal Service to distribute medication in the case of an anthrax attack or other emergency. It's the largest test in the country of the emergency plan to date.
Empty pill bottles will be distributed to areas of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Golden Valley — zip codes include 55101, 55102, 55411 and 55422.
The drill is funded through a $200,000 grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. It pays for preparation work along with overtime hours for the law enforcement officials who will escort the postal workers through neighborhoods.
Jane Braun, the state health department's director of emergency preparedness, said using postal workers is seen as one way to respond quickly to a public health emergency. Normally people would come to special medication centers to get pills within 48 hours of an emergency.
"We're doing this to try to see if we could take some pressure off of what would be medication centers," she said. "We thought if we could get them to them door-to-door it could take some pressure off those centers and buy us a little more time to get those going."
Braun said the test will also determine how well the postal service can distribute medication in a densely populated area.
She said although such an attack is unlikely, it's important to be prepared.
Smaller-scale tests were done on Boston, Philadelphia, Louisville and San Diego. Braun said Minnesota was chosen for the larger scale test because planners here were the farthest along.