State, Counties Move to Shore Up Responses to Potential Bioterrorist Threats
As fears about bioterrorism continue to grow nationwide, California officials on the state and local level have taken several steps recently to address the issue and decrease the threat posed by a possible attack. Here is a look at some of this activity:
- Gov. Gray Davis (D) announced on Monday that he will ask scientists from the University of California, other schools and the private sector to "advise him on the state's preparedness for a potential biological or chemical weapons attack." Davis said that a task force has been working on bioterrorism issues for two years. State officials have offered several training seminars for medical personnel since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and have tested the state's water system daily. "We are moving on all fronts to envision any contingency and prepare for it," Davis said (Haussler, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 10/9).
- Orange County plans to spend almost $2 million through the end of 2001 to buy more drugs and medical supplies and "create a coordinated response plan linking hospitals, paramedics and other emergency services agencies." County hospitals say they are inadequately prepared to deal with a mass-casualty attack, as they are short on staff, beds, drugs and decontamination and protective equipment. Dr. Carl Schultz, a "disaster medicine" specialist at UCI Medical Center, said, "If something happened and there was a huge increase in demand, there's no surge capacity to suddenly absorb a number of patients. No hospital in Orange County is prepared to deal with hundreds of people coming in all at once" (Hanley/Leonard, Los Angeles Times, 10/9).
- The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors yesterday created a bioterrorism task force to advise the board on how to "combat the threat." Supervisors also directed the county health department to "prepare a public information campaign on bioterrorism, and to encourage private hospitals and doctors to look for symptoms of an attack" (Los Angeles Times, 10/10).
- San Diego health officials announced on Monday that they are "improving" their laboratory screening procedures for detecting anthrax and that the county's public health lab had conducted tests to ensure that it can diagnose the bacteria. The San Diego County Medical Society's Group to Eradicate Resistant Microorganisms, or GERM Committee, is "compiling materials" to help doctors recognize symptoms of anthrax as well as other possible biological threats (Clark, San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/9). Yesterday, county health officer Dr. George Flores led a press conference attended by area physicians, hospital officials and hazardous materials experts and said that the county has "no indication" of any bioterrorist threat (Clark, San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/10).
- Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks told supervisors yesterday that his department will buy protective suits for deputies who respond to possible bioterrorist attacks and will train them for such incidents. He also said that "concrete barriers will be placed around" the county jail, shatterproof office windows will be installed at the Government Center and that the department will "double its intelligence-gathering staff to help guard against terrorist attacks" (Saillant, Los Angeles Times, 10/10).