Local postal workers train to save lives in a bioterrorist attack

Critical medication-delivery program in jeopardy

SAN DIEGO - Local postal workers are training to save lives in the case of a bioterrorist attack. Six cities participated in the training and drills in San Diego went so well that plans for expansion were in the works. But now, after the sequestration and federal shutdown, funding for the new postal program is in jeopardy.

Nick Leone is just one of more than 200 local letter carriers who stepped up to be trained.

“Oh, [I’ve been working] 40 plus years now," said Leone. "The more you’ve done it the more of-service you realize you are. People really rely on you."

His community could rely on Leone for more than just mail. In the case of a bioterrorist attack, these 200 volunteer postal workers would be called upon by the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Health. They would immediately head out to 71,000 houses in San Diego County to deliver life-saving medication -- 2 bottles of the antibiotic, doxycycline, which fights anthrax.

“The goal is full mobilization within six hours of that call,” said Dave Webster, the post master in San Marcos. “It takes a very strong caliber person to do something like this, fortunately we have a number of these employees working for us today."

Leone said he jumped at the opportunity to volunteer for the program because he remembers the anthrax scare of 2001 which took the lives of postal workers.

“After 9/11 I think everybody wanted to be of service and this is the United States Postal Service,” said Leone. “[Anthrax] did get into the mail stream and people died. In the post office, inside, and the distribution clerks. It was a very sad thing.”

Letter carriers, accompanied by police escorts, have already successfully carried out drills in Vista, San Marcos and Valley Center. But any plans for expansion into other areas are now on hold.

“The grant money from Health and Human Services has run out,” said Barbara Stickler, the city letter carrier union president. “They were trying to get some additional funding in the budget for 2014.”

Stickler said the sequestration means money didn’t come through. President Obama requested an additional $5 million to keep the program alive for three more years. But current budget politics means the program can’t expand and may not be able to survive here in San Diego.

“I’m very proud of my colleagues," said Stickler. "They’re willing to leave their family at home and take care of the community."

Leone said he’s staying at the ready, waiting for the call. Around 23 percent of our postal service has a military background and the postal workers tell 10News this is just another way to serve.

“You want to serve, you want to be an asset to your community," said Leone. "There’s really not reason not to."

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