Louisville, Ky., and Minneapolis-St. Paul have been chosen for a pilot project that would use letter carriers to deliver supplies of the antibiotic doxycycline to residents within 48 hours of an airborne biological attack.
More than 300 carriers here already have signed up for the voluntary program, acting Louisville Postmaster Wendy English said.
"Other cities across the country will be watching closely to learn how to apply this model in their own communities," said Edward Gabriel, principal deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and officials with the U.S. Postal Service, HHS and the Kentucky and Metro departments of public health officially announced the program Wednesday.
This city was chosen because of its experience in emergency preparedness, including its experience as a test site for regional disaster drills, said Dave Langdon, spokesman for the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.
"This agreement puts us at the cutting edge of national efforts to protect our citizens," Fischer said in prepared remarks. "Louisville will become the national model in that our plan includes door-to-door delivery to citizens in both urban and rural" ZIP codes.
Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, anthrax-tainted letters were mailed. More than 20 people, many Postal Service and mailroom workers, were infected; five died.
Langdon said extensive computer modeling has indicated that 48 hours "would be enough time" to curtail a major disaster.
"Deaths from anthrax can be drastically reduced and in many instances disease can be avoided altogether if we get people started on antibiotics within 48 hours," said Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, Metro Public Health and Wellness director. "This agreement allows us to do that."
The Centers from Disease Control and Prevention would ship the antibiotics from the Strategic National Stockpile.
The medications would be guarded by sheriff's office and corrections department staff for distribution to postal sites. From there, the volunteer letter carriers would distribute the medications door to door, with each carrier guarded by a police officer along the delivery route.
Langdon said the carriers who have volunteered constitute about 70 percent of the workforce.
"This is yet another way for our men and women in blue to prove what an asset they are to our nation," said Allen Harris Jr., the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers branch in the Louisville area.