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Medicine Dispensing Exercise Held at Virginia Costco

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volunteer packing medicine container in dispensing bag during emergency response exercise

When you think “community,” what comes to mind? Maybe you immediately think of neighbors and friends who live nearby, or perhaps local businesses, churches, civic organizations and others. What about some of your regular stops around your community such as your pharmacy where you fill your prescriptions or buy over-the-counter medicine? Most people have trusted community partners they know well and with whom they interact regularly in everyday life. In fact, some of these same community partners are working with local, state, and federal public health planners to help your communities prepare for emergencies.

Pharmacists standing over table of clipboards.
Pharmacists set up a screening station in a recent exercise to determine which medicine a person should receive to counteract exposure to anthrax.

In June 2015, a Costco warehouse in Potomac Mills, VA, partnered with Prince William Health District (Virginia Department of Health) to show how a private business can step up to help its community in an emergency. In this particular exercise, Costco regional pharmacy staff exercised a local plan to dispense medication – actually empty training bottles – to nearly 200 public volunteers as part of an open, or public, point of dispensing (POD). The scenario was based on a large-scale anthrax attack that would require mass dispensing of antibiotics from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). In an emergency where many people were exposed to anthrax, these antibiotics would help prevent people from becoming sick.

Volunteers wait to receive their “pill bottles” in a recent exercise with Costco and Prince William, Va. Health District to test a public dispensing plan in an emergency.
Volunteers wait to receive their “pill bottles” in a recent exercise with Costco and Prince William, Va. Health District to test a public dispensing plan in an emergency.

“Public health and the private sector can share resources and work together as a community to reach one goal,” said Patrick Ashley, emergency preparedness and response coordinator for Prince William Health District. “We have realized that government cannot do everything on its own – and shouldn’t. The success of this exercise comes from having engagement on all sides. Costco came to the table and has been a great partner.”

This public/private dispensing pilot, facilitated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), demonstrates how large private retailers can partner with state and local public health departments to dispense medications to the public in an emergency. Costco has partnered with public health to operate both closed PODs, which would serve its own employees and their families, and public PODs open to the larger community.

“Costco has a history of serving the community,” said Christopher Loving, Costco regional pharmacy supervisor in Virginia. “This was a great opportunity for us to show our region’s pharmacy managers how this kind of event would work. The POD exercise at Potomac Mills was a huge success.”

At CDC, we know that all response begins locally, and a resilient community is simply one that has made itself ready to use all of its available resources to plan for, respond to, and recover from an adverse event. The real key to creating resilient communities is to strengthen day-to-day activities that help keep the community healthy and thriving.

table with pharmacists packing bags with medicine bottels
Regional Costco pharmacists in Virginia exercise a local dispensing plan to respond to an emergency that would result in wide-spread exposure to aerosolized anthrax.

“The SNS is the nation’s repository of medications and medical devices for responding to public health emergencies, and we focus our efforts on helping build resiliency by ensuring that everyone in a community has access to the life-saving material we can provide,” said Greg Burel, director of CDC’s Division of Strategic National Stockpile. “The National Stockpile’s supplies cannot stop significant health problems after a disaster if communities are not resilient, so we work to facilitate relationships, train people and create strong partnerships between public health and the community. By including private businesses like Costco in these planning efforts, we are able to reach more people who rely on and trust their community partners.”

From the astute healthcare provider who recognizes that a disease is emerging in a community that could pose a public health threat, to the company that wants to make sure its employees and their families are safe, all of us have an important role to play in making our communities resilient. In an emergency, the whole community will be affected. If public health jurisdictions and the private sector can collaborate on planning and partnerships in advance to make that community resilient before something bad ever happens, we are all ultimately safer.

PHPR: Health Security in Action

This post is part of a series designed to profile programs from CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.

The Point of Dispensing program is a program run by CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response’s (PHPR) Division of Strategic National Stockpile.

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2 comments on “Medicine Dispensing Exercise Held at Virginia Costco”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    As a Registered Nurse, I think that this is an excellent exercise to help prepare our community for an emergency. Emergency preparedness is imperative to everyone in our community. Most people think that just water and food are essentials needed to prepare for an emergency. Medication is something that we want to have readily available in the event of an emergency. For example someone who is an insulin dependent diabetic won’t remain in a stable condition without their insulin for long. Making sure that people in the community have access to the medications they need to maintain their current health is very extremely important.

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