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State prepares for bioterrorism drill this spring

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MCALESTER, Okla. (AP) _ State and city leaders are preparing to hold what they say is the largest bioterrorism drill ever conducted. This spring, they will pretend that three Oklahoma cities are contaminated with deadly diseases.

During the three-day drill, scheduled to begin April 12, McAlester officials will respond to a scenario that pneumonic plague was released into the city.

Tulsa will deal with smallpox, and Lawton will deal with botulism, said Dr. Robert Petrone, bioterrorism and response coordinator for the state Health Department.

Petrone met with McAlester officials Thursday to begin planning the drill. Officials discussed using jelly beans as simulated antibiotics. Pneumonic plague is a disease that can be spread by aerosol.

The drill will begin in Oklahoma City on April 12 with a meeting attended by Gov. Frank Keating and heads of the state's executive agencies. The group will have to decide how to distribute antibiotics and vaccines, how to set up a quarantine and whether to restrict travel.

The decisions made by the group will not affect the second day of the drill, when officials in each city have to deal with the pretend outbreaks.

The local leaders will have to come up with plans to treat the sick and prevent the disease from spreading. They also will consider how to inform the public and how to organize volunteers and emergency personnel.

On the last day of the drill, April 15, officials in the three cities and state officials will meet through televideo conference to talk about the process, Petrone said. The discussion will help set policies to protect against bioterrorism.

The drill, called ``Sooner Spring,'' is a joint project of the state Health Department and the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, which is part of the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

The exercise is a follow-up to a two-day program at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington last summer dubbed ``Dark Winter.'' That drill used the scenario that Iraqi-financed Afghan terrorists were spraying smallpox viruses into shopping centers in Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

The event was sponsored by four think tanks, including the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.
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