Representatives from area schools and county agencies gathered at Lehighton Area High School Monday morning to prepare themselves for any public health emergency that may arise in the future.

During the Points of Dispensing (POD) drill, school nurses, superintendents, principals, and maintenance crews; state and local police officers; the county sheriff; Emergency Management Agency officials; Blue Mountain Health System officials; Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers; and representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, practiced how to quickly and efficiently dispense large amounts of medications to the community in the event of a pandemic or epidemic.

Mark Nalesnik, director of the Carbon County EMA, explained that a POD can be used to dispense vaccinations or medications to large groups of individuals at once. These PODs would be used if an infectious disease such as polio did in the past or last year's H1N1 scare would begin spreading throughout the country.

"We're preparing ourselves to hopefully never have to use this," he said of the drill, adding that it is better that the county prepares itself using drills rather than waiting until an emergency actually occurs.

Thomas McGroarty, public health preparedness coordinator at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, stressed that these dispensing sites would only be for residents who show no symptoms of the disease in question. If a resident is sick when he or she arrives, the person would be told to go to his or her doctor for treatment.

Prior to the simulation portion of the drill, Carol Reichbaum of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Public Health Practice, talked to the group about what a POD is; how it functions; the roles volunteers play; guidelines for running a POD and more.

She then assigned each member of the group to a shift. The first shift played the role of staff members at an actual POD; while the second shift played the residents coming for the medication to fight a disease. The two shifts then switched roles.

Abbie Guardiani, school nurse at Lehighton Area High School, said that she felt the drill was beneficial.

"It's an essential training," she said. "I think they made it clear that if something happens, it's the volunteers who are going to have to make everything work. It's going to take a community effort to make this work properly.

"It's good to have this drill when there is no panic so people know what is expected of them in the event of an actual emergency."

McGroarty stressed that volunteers are a necessity to making a POD work properly because they will be the ones organizing, screening and dispensing the medication to the community.

Following the simulated POD, the group met and discussed what they learned during the drill, as well as asked any questions that may have arisen.

Anyone interested in becoming a CERT volunteer a group of individuals trained for emergency situations and who would like to help in the event of an emergency, should contact the Carbon County EMA at (570) 325-3097.

The drill was funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health through a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.