The Post Office Prepares for Bioterrorism

Doug Aton
Doug Aton

HONOLULU (KHNL) - The word "anthrax" conjures up unpleasant images of bioterrorism. In these uncertain times, is Hawaii ready for an anthrax biohazard scare? Government officials say we are.

It's been six years since five people on the mainland died due to antrax contaminated mail. Now, it hasn't reached our Hawaiian shores, but local, state and federal agencies are doing what they can to stay ahead of the game.

This alarm tells these postal employees they must evacuate because of an anthrax scare. It's only a drill, but they go through all the steps as if it was the real thing.

"You realize that this could possibly happen and you see the equipment out there, you see the people," said Russell James, a postal service employee who participated in the drill. "The only thing is they're calm here. Perhaps in a real situation, it's not as calm."

James is one of about 300 taking part in this comprehensive drill. He said he wants to be prepared since he's in the front lines.

"Very scary because you wonder, will this happen?" James said.

Postal, medical and fire agencies work together. They said this drill is geared to protecting the people of Hawaii.

In 2001, five people died in anthrax scares on the mainland. Officials said their goal also includes tracking bioterrorism suspects.

"Catching the culprits is also involved in this process and we're certainly looking at phase three, assuring that we have some system of trying to track down the tainted piece of evidence," said Doug Aton, homeland security coordinator for the United States Postal Service.

In the end, postal employees hope this is as close as they come to an anthrax scare.

"It was just a unique experience, something I hope I would never have to go through in real life," said James.

But what about the general public? Fire officials said if you receive anthrax in the mail, put the contaminated envelope in a zip-lock bag, wash your hands thoroughly, and then call 9-1-1.