Public Safety

County Ready to Dispense Mass Medications in Event of Disaster

In the event of a bioterrorist attack or a pandemic, the County Emergency Medical Services team is ready to dispense medications or vaccines – up to 1,000 doses per hour -within 48 hours to help protect San Diego County residents.

To aid the region’s readiness, the County participated in the Medical Countermeasures Program administered by the Centers for Disease Control. As part of the program, the County developed a plan to respond to a large-scale bioterrorist attack within that 2-day period.

In 2004 the San Diego region was chosen to be one of first counties to participate in the pilot program, then called the Cities Readiness Initiative. Since then, the County has repeatedly updated its plan to make sure we are prepared for the most current threat.

In the instance of a bioterrorism or pandemic event, needed medications or vaccines are distributed to San Diego County through the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), said Jack Walsh county SNS coordinator. The SNS is a national repository of critical medical supplies including antibiotics, vaccines, antidotes and antitoxins that would supplement emergency public health supplies in cities and counties.

During a medical emergency, the County would activate all or part of the 67 Points of Dispensing (PODs) they have established at key locations where they would disseminate public information about the dosage and disease or hazard and distribute medications. Between 30 and 45 people, both County workers and volunteers, are trained to operate each POD, he said.

“We can dispense as much as 1,000 doses an hour,” said Walsh.

The team works with its federal, state and county partners including emergency services and law enforcement, hospitals, schools and businesses to update the plan and hold various drills to ensure they can set up within the needed time frame.

Drills are usually held at recreation centers and schools that are not in session. The exercise usually uses an area about the size of a basketball court. The mock patients enter the area, go through an assembly line where they receive their medication and then exit another door.

That plan was actually tested during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and it worked well.

“We gave over 10,000 H1N1 flu vaccinations through PODs,” Walsh said. “We established large PODs in each region of the county and then had people come out. The vaccinations were also available at all the public health centers.”

PODs might also be requested to dispense vaccinations in the event of a natural disaster in which large populations are sheltered together for long periods of time.

While the Medical Countermeasures Program has improved significantly in the seven years since they first developed it, Walsh said his office is constantly working to enhance it. Ultimately, disaster preparedness is a task which is never truly complete because there is always room for improvement and fine-tuning, he said.

The County also works with hospitals and businesses to promote emergency preparedness and to remind people everyone needs to have business and a personal emergency response plan along with the appropriate supplies.

Walsh said that everyone can be prepared:

  • Have a personal emergency plan and a 7-day emergency supplies kit including food and water. You can find a plan template as well as a list of emergency supplies at www.sdcountyemergency.com under the ReadySanDiego tab and then clicking on the Family tab.
  • Stay aware and informed of a county emergency event by visiting the County website www.sdcountyemergency.com for updates on the event and listen to news updates on KOGO radio at 600 AM.
Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact