State Bioterrorism Preparedness Debated
The Sacramento Bee on Monday examined California's preparedness for a potential bioterrorist attack following the recent release of a report by Trust for America's Health that rated the state's preparedness against such an attack a five on a scale of zero to 10.
A June 2004 RAND study stated, "Strong central leadership and coordination of public health appears to be lacking." The RAND study also found that "few jurisdictions believe they can count on the Department of Health Services in an emergency."
Public Health Officer Richard Jackson said, "I think the RAND report got it right. In the past, this was exactly the case." Jackson, who joined the department two months before the RAND study, said the situation has improved, adding, "I think we're reasonably prepared for a moderate-scale event." Jackson defined "moderate" as an incident involving fewer than 1,000 people.
Kimberly Shoaf -- who serves as assistant director of the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Public Health and Disasters and has been running training sessions for local public health agencies -- estimated that Sacramento County could handle an event involving 10,000 to 20,000 people. "Personally, I think I would give the counties a better score than the state," Shoaf said.
The state's public health agencies and hospitals have received "hundreds of millions of dollars" from the federal government for bioterrorism preparedness -- including about $100 million for the Department of Health Services -- but the state "is still scrambling to put the money to good use," the Bee reports.
DHS officials said they could not provide details of how the federal funds were used.
Gary Winuk, deputy director of the state Office of Homeland Security, said, "There was a lot of money coming down, a lot of things needing to happen in a short period of time." He added, "The irony of it is, it isn't easy to manage that level of money" (Lau, Sacramento Bee, 1/24).
Efforts to prepare for a possible bioterrorist attack are not "working very well," a Fresno Bee editorial states, adding that "it's hard to see much evidence that it's working at all." According to the editorial, California's preparedness effort is "a case of the money being on hand but not being spent very well."
The editorial states, "State officials say emergency preparedness is a high priority" for the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), concluding, "Let's hope so" (Fresno Bee, 1/26).