Talking Turkey – Point of Distribution (POD) Exercise

I recently read an article (although I can’t find it) about a health department who conducted a point of distribution (POD) exercise during the holidays.  Instead of handing out Tic Tacs or some other silliness, they did something great for their community – they distributed turkey dinners to those in need.  As I don’t have the article to reference and I had only skimmed over it the first time through, I don’t have the details of how they pulled this off, but having participated in the planning of POD exercises (particularly those that have a direct impact on the community, such as one that distributed preparedness kits and information) I can surmise how they did it.

As most of my readers know, emergency management is a collaborative process.  While local health departments are responsible for medical points of distribution, they can’t do it alone.  These are massive efforts to inoculate or prophylax hundreds if not thousands of persons within a narrow time frame.  These efforts require cooperation and support from emergency management, law enforcement, fire service, EMS, hospitals, volunteer organizations, and the private sector.  Commodity PODs can also be established, not necessarily run by the health department, with the intent of distributing needed commodities – such as tarps, food, or water – to the populace.  Health departments, however, are required to exercise their POD plans, which requires registration, intake, education, and inoculation of citizens.

In the example I linked to in the first paragraph regarding the preparedness kits, the health department was able to purchase most items and utilized a mix of staff and volunteers to run the POD, with support from other agencies to address traffic, parking, and other needs.  In the turkey dinner exercise, I imagine they were able to pay for some items and had others donated for this worthwhile effort.  It’s a great way of supporting the community with an immediate need while preparing for a future need.  Kudos to that community!

Now if I can only find that article…


6/17/14 Edit… I found a reference!

LLIS posted an ‘Innovative Practice’ bulletin about this exercise.  It can be found here.  To clarify/correct, it was actually an SNS exercise.


© 2014 Timothy Riecker

Marketing the Preparedness Message

There are some great ideas in Jim McKay’s article – The Preparedness Message Isn’t Reaching the Public, featured in Emergency Management Magazine.  Just like any good marketing campaign, we have to push with multiple strategies.  Billboards and television campaigns are great but they aren’t going to hit home with everyone.  We need to be more creative in our approach.  Our methods will resonate differently with various people.  The CDC’s zombie campaign got a lot of attention (see my blog post on it!).  Why?  Because they not only used something trendy, they considered their audiences.  Not all audiences respond to the zombie campaign; some think it’s ridiculous – but they were able to engage a lot of people.  Different people require different methods.  Once you reach an audience, then you can convey a message.  Preparedness is boring, let’s face it.  We need creative and diverse solutions to reach and engage audiences.

The CDC’s Zombie Banner




There are four major challenges we’re facing when it comes to preparedness that I speak about in presentations.  These are many of the thoughts of many folks when it comes to disasters:

1) It’s not going to happen here.

2) It’s not going to be that bad.

3) There is nothing I can do about it.

4) Government will take care of me.

These aren’t rocket science, but they can be tough nuts to crack – especially when we don’t want to be the ‘doom and gloom’ people.

Let’s look at what has worked.  McKay’s article mentions coupons to Target for preparedness kits.  This is an effective methodology that has worked well for years in California and other places around the country.  In Central New York, where I’m from, a county health department capitalized creatively on a point of distribution exercise to get the beginnings of preparedness kits in the hands of residents.  The 300 slots they had available filled very quickly.  The event got great press and all positive comments from those who participated.  Good or bad economy, people like free or discounted things.  The lesson learned here is to get preparedness underwritten.  Be it by grant funds or corporate sponsors.  If Pepsi wants to put out a preparedness kit, so be it.

Preparedness Exercise a Best Practice

Over the last few months I’ve been working with a county health department through my role as chair of our local VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster).  This work has revolved around an exercise that is required of them for Points of Distribution, or PODs.  PODs, if you don’t know, are designated locations where a local health department can bring in citizens for inoculations or prophylaxis in the event of an epidemic or other severe health event.  PODs can also be used for distribution of commodities, such as food, water, or tarps, in the event of other disasters.  There exist standards of practice for PODs – from the management system (the incident command system, or ICS), to the stations the POD is organized in.  The exercises are required by way of the state and federal health preparedness grants that the local health departments receive to ensure that the plans are tested and the personnel are practiced.

Early in the planning stages for this exercise, the health department decided they would use this exercise as a way of contributing to the preparedness of the community.  They had the funding available to provide basic preparedness kits for 300 families and would use the POD stations to provide information and kit materials to those who went through it.  What a great idea!

The local health department could have done this on their own, but instead chose to invite several community partners to join them.  These included the local chapter of the American Red Cross, local Salvation Army Corps, the county Department of Emergency Services, the new Regional Volunteer Center, the County Animal Response Team (CART), and others, including the VOAD.  The partnership was hugely beneficial, leveraging the resources and talents of all participants for the exercise.  The local health department was able to obtain the kit materials and handle promotional activities such as a local commercial featuring the county executive, radio ads, local news paper mentions, and posters for print and e-mail distribution.  They also handled the on-line registration for the event.  The assisting agencies provided their expertise and knowledge of various preparedness areas, providing speakers and print materials for the event.  Our area is very culturally diverse and the assisting agencies were able to provide the print materials in a variety of languages, and some agencies provided much needed services of interpretation.

Two days before the event registration reached 300 – the cut off based on the kit materials we had available.  I’m confident that, had we the materials, we could have accepted registrations upward of 400 or even 450.  Clearly this was an indicator of an interested community and the need to do this again!

The event itself went very well, with even the host facility – who has a catering service – providing refreshments and snacks for both staff and attendees.  The schedule was tight… with only about 20 minutes being given per group to go through the POD.  Groups averaged between 15 and 20 people, and a new group was ushered in every 10 minutes (when people pre-registered for the event they chose a time slot).  There were some late comers, early arrivals, and a few walks in – all of which were accommodated with a bit of coordination.  We had parking attendants ensuring a good flow of traffic, sign in staff ensuring that people were getting in, and other staff to help folks all along the way through the POD.

Comments made by people as they went through, along with the brief surveys they took at the end, were all quite positive.  The event had local media exposure, with the county executive and health department director being interviewed, as well as some attendees.  The attendees received information on the importance of preparedness, local hazards and information, how to be alerted in the event of an emergency, information on special family needs, and, of course, the kit itself.

Many health departments conduct POD exercises by cycling volunteers through and handing out candy or breath mints – which is fine if you don’t have much funding – it still accomplishes the goal of the exercise.  Using a POD to conduct flu clinics is common practice and very functional.  This idea, though, was creative and provided an excellent opportunity to give something back to the community.  It increased awareness of members of the community and helped them to be better prepared.  Obviously we hope they will all tell their friends and family about what they learned.  We know that any future events like this would be very successful.  I absolutely encourage others to something like this – it’s a true best practice.

Tim Riecker