HHS Works To Improve Response to Health Emergencies
HHS responded to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by putting greater emphasis on preparations for "urgent threats to homeland security and the need for rapid response," the Washington Post reports.
According to former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, the terrorist attacks made it clear that the U.S. was unprepared to respond to major emergencies. Thompson said, "For the first time, state and federal governments began looking at how we might rebuild public health facilities" that had been underfunded for years, adding, "[W]e realized how disjointed we were and how the various divisions were completely independent."
HHS in the wake of the attacks created a centralized authority called the "war room" to "coordinate information from all the divisions and issue orders to all hands," the Post reports. HHS' bioterrorism and emergency preparedness budget increased from $237 million in 2000 to $9.7 billion in 2006, and agency officials began focusing their duties more on emergency preparedness than on "routine matters," according to the Post.
HHS secretary Mike Leavitt said, "I feel certain that I have spent a substantially higher percentage of my time focusing on matters related to the security of the homeland than I would have five years before," adding, "It became evident to me early on that [emergency preparedness] was a major part of my responsibility." Leavitt said the agency currently is focused on preparations for a possible flu pandemic.
Leavitt said, Sept. 11 "has created a need for an even deeper inspection of our readiness throughout the country," adding, "The people of Salina, Kansas, weren't really worried about terrorists coming to their town, but they have reason to be concerned about a pandemic" (Broder, Washington Post, 7/16).