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Statewide simulation prepares Ohio agencies for possible anthrax attack

Emergency responders in gear participate in an anthrax attack simulation on Oct. 17, 2023, at the Historic Crew Stadium.
Sarah Donaldson
Statehouse News Bureau
Emergency responders in gear participate in an anthrax attack simulation on Oct. 17, 2023, at the Historic Crew Stadium.

Public safety, emergency management and health agencies across Ohio worked together last week to undergo a three-day biological attack simulation.

At the Historic Crew Stadium near the state fairgrounds in Columbus, trained emergency responders donned layers of protective gear to make sense of white powder and a chemical smell, and from there, determined how to properly reduce the risks.

“Exercises like this allow us to evaluate our ongoing readiness and make adjustments that we may find are necessary based on that experience, and it's all with an eye towards best protecting the people of Ohio,” said Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.

Simulation prepares emergency services across Ohio

Under this mock exercise, the hazard was the biological agent anthrax.

The United States last recorded an anthrax attack in the weeks following 9/11, when laced letters mailed to U.S. Senators and media outlets left five people dead and 17 more sick. More than two decades later, Vanderhoff said emergency preparedness drills allow the state and localities to see how ready they are—just in case.

“All of us involved in this exercise hope that we will never have to address these kinds of issues,” he said.

ODH, however, has not been so lucky when it comes to other kinds of health emergencies.

Starting late in the winter of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic first prompted stay-at-home orders, and then the need for widescale vaccine distribution. More recently, when East Palestine residents voiced their anxieties about the aftermath of the train derailment, the department offered a pop-up clinic.

It takes years to pull a preparedness drill of this scale off, according to ODH.

ODH, the Ohio National Guard, the FBI and the Columbus Division of Fire were on site Tuesday to participate in the initial phase of the simulation, which kicked off exercises through Thursday. Each of the state’s 88 counties were playing a role, with local health departments practicing the request process for how antibiotics would be distributed to the public within 48 hours of a bioterrorist attack.

After the three-day drill concluded, participating agencies began to look at what went right and what went wrong. Debriefing can take as long as six to nine months across the board statewide.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at
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