By John Schaffner

The Buckhead Coalition, in partnership with Home Depot and Georgia Power, has announced a subsidy program to help Buckhead drug stores install emergency power generators, with a goal of 100% protection for Buckhead residents in need of prescriptions during a power failure.

“There are 26 pharmacies in Buckhead, but almost half (11) do not have generators, and this is a risk we shouldn’t tolerate,” said former Atlanta mayor and Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell.

“In accordance with the mission of the Buckhead Coalition to ‘nuture the quality of life’ of the people in this community, today we begin what we consider to be a very important initiative to ensure continued delivery of prescription drugs in the event of any major disruption of electrical power in this part of Atlanta,” Massell said during a Sept. 10 press conference attended by representatives of Georgia Power, Home Depot and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Together, the three partners will provide “grants up to 75% combined with discounts of up to 20% for generator purchases,” Massell announced. “With that help there can be no excuse, in our opinion, for not having this emergency system. We are doing this so that everybody in Buckhead will know their drugstores will be able to dispense medication even if power is lost.”

According to the American Pharmaceutical Association, over 32,000 of the 70,000 residents of Buckhead are likely to rely on prescription medications. An estimated 6,500 of these prescriptions are dispensed daily, many of them are time-sensitive drugs for seniors.

Pharmacies vary in size, as do generators and their prices. A portable machine to support only basic dispensing services can cost less than $1,000. A subsidy formula will provide an incentive proportionate to the size of the store, so that stores opting to install larger equipment are also encouraged to participate.

“Home Depot has been gracious enough to provide a blanket 20 % discount on any generator through their Buckhead store, up to $5,000 per generator,” Massell explained. “It is not just those generators that are on the floor but any generator they sell. Georgia Power Company was gracious enough to give us a flat $20,000 grant, which is capped out at $1,800 per unit. The Buckhead Coalition is putting up 5 %, which is capped out at $500,” he said.

The total savings to pharmacies that participate in the program can total $7,300, “which with these incentives would end up costing them about $100 for the store itself,” Massell explained. He added that generators can run on up to about $25,000 if they want to operate the air-conditioning and other services on the property. “That is up to the store,” he added.

The program covers generator purchase costs. Installation costs are the responsibility of the individual pharmacy. Only pharmacies in Buckhead qualify and some other restrictions apply, according to Massell.

Also participating in the press conference was Col. Ronald J. Ross, chief of training for the First Army headquarters at Fort Gillem, who was representing Lt. Gen. Russell L. Honore, who Massell credits with suggesting the program during a recent speech to the Buckhead Rotary Club.

Lt. Gen. Honore most recently served as commander, Standing Joint Force Headquarters – Homeland Security, U.S. Northern Command and was involved in Gulf Coast recovery operations following Hurricane Katrina. He suggests that protecting power to drug stores through generators could save lives in the event of an enemy attack or natural disaster.

“One of the lessons we learned from Katrina was the absolute necessity of generators for pharmacies,” Massell explained. “In today’s business environment, druggists cannot operate without computers, refrigerators, cash registers and other electrical equipment.”

Terrorism, ice storms, tornadoes, heat and various other causes can create a disruption in electrical service. Pharmacists are trained to be “first responders” but can’t work without operating equipment.

Home Depot Regional Contractor Sales Manager David Hawkins stated, “We are pleased to be the commercial partner in this unique initiative to help draw attention to a need that under certain circumstances could save many lives. We hope it becomes the model for others to emulate.”

“We would hope this will be a pilot introduction for what should be done nationally,” Massell added. He was quick to point out that the Buckhead Coalition was “the first in the country to put portable defibrillators where the people were rather than on ambulances. We placed over 60 of them in churches, hotels, office buildings and high-rise multi-family buildings here,” he explained. “We were the first in the country to put free-standing 911 emergency telephones on private property that was not on a college campus or on a public highway. We are pleased to be first in what helps the rest of the country,” he added.

“We are delighted to report that this undertaking has received endorsement from representatives of Homeland Security, FEMA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Piedmont Healthcare, Medical Association of Atlanta and others,” Massell said. “In fact, we find the idea to be universally saluted.”

Massell sent out a challenge to his own personal pharmacy: “I have been with the same druggist for probably 25 years. It is one that does not have the generator. If it doesn’t (install a generator), I will be forced to move my prescriptions to another drugstore.”