TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Jeanne Williquett is playing her part well in a bioterrorism drama meant to test this city's readiness for an attack. She desperately tells anyone who will listen that she has anthrax.
``I have a fever,'' she tells a nurse, who nods along, trying to calm her. ``They say anthrax starts with a fever.''
Volunteers like Williquett, a hospice nurse, are helping local planners test Tucson's ability to quickly distribute antibiotics to a large number of people in response to a bioterrorist attack.
It's the sort of exercise other states and cities are likely to run as they work to upgrade and test their response systems. The federal government already has handed out $1 billion to help states plan for bioterrorism, with more on the way, and states are required to show they are making progress.
Just this month, federal officials conducted their own bioterrorism war game at the White House, playing out their response to a hypothetical international smallpox attack.
In Tucson, the three-day drill in November illustrated both the power and limitations of bioterrorism planning. Real nurses worked to calm Williquett and deal with other crises. But those in charge knew even before the test began exactly how the disaster was to unfold and just how they would handle it.
Local officials say simply planning the exercise helped them prepare for a real disaster, forcing coordination among police, fire, public health, pharmacists and others.
``When the big event happens you have to know the person on the other end of that line is someone you can trust and is going to do the job,'' said Les Caid, a battalion chief for the Tucson Fire Department, a chief organizer.
But outside experts caution that if exercises aren't challenging enough, they can offer a false sense of security.
In Tucson, local planners are ahead of much of the nation, but it isn't clear whether the exercise actually tested their readiness for the worst.
Just one state, Florida, is ready to receive the federal stockpile of drugs and medical supplies needed in a disaster, according to a federal assessment this fall, although other states may have improved since then.
At the same time, many communities have little clue how they would handle a surge of injured patients or produce enough isolation beds to keep a crush of infectious people away from others.
A slew of new hires in public health, upgraded computer systems, detailed planning and drills like Tucson's are aimed at helping communities move ahead.
Bioterrorism planners from around the country came to watch Tucson's drill, looking for ideas.
``If something were to happen now, everyone has plans in place,'' said Vernon Jones, lead coordinator for the Fresco, Calif., Metropolitan Medical Response System. But independent plans developed by various local agencies aren't integrated, he said.
Jones plans to develop plans to deliver mass smallpox vaccinations and conduct a drill. Asked if he could vaccinate the 600,000 people in his community within a few days of an attack, he said bluntly: ``No, nobody can.''
In Montgomery County, Md., officials staged an exercise this fall that county police Capt. Mike Collins said identified several problems: Hospitals couldn't reach the public health department because someone had turned off the telephone ringer, and while they identified needed medical supplies, they didn't know how to get them.
In rural Graham County, Ariz., bioterrorism coordinator Dolores Herrera says the preparations are overwhelming. ``It's so vague,'' she said. ``Everything is a concept.''
She said the county does not yet have a plan to dispense medicine in a mass attack.
Being in an isolated rural county two hours northeast of Tucson makes preparation particularly challenging, she said. ``You only have so many nurses, so many doctors, so many pharmacists.'' And county officials have contacts but ``no solid relationships'' on Indian reservations.