This type of training is of great value, says Spieldenner. But states are becoming concerned because there has been a “significant reduction” of HSEEP funds, Spieldenner notes. Already, states have to carefully allocate what training programs and equipment the funding goes towards. It “impacts how much training we can do and how much equipment we can buy,” he notes.
That concern was also voiced by Kellermann in his testimony at the congressional hearing. “As the horror of September 11, 2001, fades into memory, grant funds...to strengthen preparedness are dropping,” he said. Worse, “the attention of many local officials and business leaders has moved elsewhere,” according to Kellermann. “Emergency managers and public safety agencies remain focused on the mission, but some hospitals have lapsed into thinking that disaster preparedness is a costly distraction from daily business.”
While HSEEP prepares first responders for handling catastrophic events, another program called the Cities Readiness Initiative (CRI) helps prepare communities for responding to large-scale bioterrorism attacks. CRI, which is run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and funded through the Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative agreement, helps large metropolitan cities develop plans to dispense antibiotics to their citizens within 48 hours of a bioevent. Public health departments in 72 major cities are a part of the program, which could ultimately vaccinate up to 57 percent of the nation’s population.
Tom Bowman, deputy of the CRI, tells Security Management that the program is structured based on how cities should respond to an anthrax attack, which is generally considered the worst-case scenario in a bioevent. When the program began in 2004, 21 cities participated, and it has grown to include at least one CRI city in each state.
The CDC has a national stockpile of antibiotics that would fight most bioattacks, including anthrax. The CRI educates public health officials on how to proceed in setting up a dispensing network, Bowman says. It’s especially important to prepare cities on how to deal with bioattacks because there is such a short window between infection and symptoms, Bowman notes.
In the event of a bioattack, the governor of the affected state must request antibiotics from the strategic national stockpile. Once the request is made, the city has a 48-hour window to vaccinate the community’s citizens, according to the CRI.
First, local officials must set up a Receipt, Store, and Stage site, which would receive the antibiotics and other supplies from the strategic national stockpile within 12 hours of the governor’s request. The site would deliver the supplies to individual points of dispensing throughout the community.