FEMA to Coordinate Nation's Defense Against Terrorism

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Bush has announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be in charge of coordinating the nation�s program for counterterrorism. FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh, while testifying at a Senate hearing on May 1, said he would establish an Office of National Preparedness so that the roles of all the agencies involved would be defined.

Vice President Cheney will be heading a study to determine how the government would cope with terrorists � threats that may involve hand-carried biological and chemical agents and nuclear weapons.

Presently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is charged with coordinating a response to a terrorist attack.

Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee subpanel for national security issues, has voiced concern that the federal system now in place might be inadequate for coping with a multijurisdictional, rapidly spreading terrorist incident. Also of concern are whether the government would be able to efficiently distribute medicines or curtail the spread of infections.

According to an article in the American Journal of Public Health (2001; 91:710-717), hospital emergency departments have no formal plan in place to treat victims of terrorist attacks who have been exposed to chemical or biological agents or nerve gases. A survey of some 200 hospital emergency departments revealed that fewer than 20 percent had such plans.

Data reported in the article was gathered by Donald Clark Wetter of the U.S. Public Health Service office in New York City and his team of researchers. Among the criteria used were whether the hospitals--located in urban (more than 60 percent of those surveyed) and rural areas in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington--would have the antibiotics to treat 50 patients who had been subjected to an anthrax attack or have an isolated decontamination unit that could accommodate 50 individuals who had been exposed to the nerve gas sarin. The researchers found that more than one-third of all hospitals surveyed lacked sufficient antibiotic supplies to treat the anthrax-exposed victims and fewer than one-third had ample supplies of atropine to treat the patients exposed to sarin. Only a few had the decontamination facilities and other supplies and resources needed to treat sarin victims. (Sources: Helen Kennedy, Daily News Washington Bureau, May 9, 2001; Reuters Health, Todd Zwillich, http://www.news.Yahoo.com, May 2, 2001; Reuters Health http://www.news.Yahoo.com, May 1, 2001

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