THE MAGAZINE

Vulnerabilities Remain for Bioterror Threat

By Marta Lawrence

“Over one-quarter of states do not have sufficient bioterrorism laboratory response capabilities,” says the third annual study of the U.S. public health and emergency response capabilities by the Trust for America’s Health. The report brings to light several deficiencies in the public health sector and evaluates states’ abilities to respond to and mitigate the effects of a natural disaster or terrorist incident.

Each state and the District of Columbia were evaluated against 10 key indicators to determine their level of all-hazards preparedness. The indicators were determined by an advisory committee of subject matter experts; they measure the states’ emergency planning and available resources.

States were assigned a ranking from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest possible score. The study found that more than half of the states received a score of 5 or less and nearly 85 percent scored 6 or less. Only three states, Delaware, South Carolina, and Virginia, scored 8 points or more. The District of Columbia, which is widely viewed as a prime target for terrorism, scored only a 4.

The study also found that only seven states and two cities have a strategic national stockpile to administer and distribute vaccines and antidotes in the event of an emergency. It also found that in nearly one-third of states and in the District of Columbia, hospitals are not sufficiently prepared to care for a surge of extra patients that would likely accompany a public health emergency.

lso sobering was the finding that only 10 state public health labs have adequate chemical terrorism response capabilities and that nearly half of the states do not use national standards to track disease outbreak information. Only two states—Rhode Island and South Dakota—have sufficient plans, incentives, or provisions to encourage healthcare workers to continue to come to work during a major infectious outbreak, and more than 40 percent of the states do not have sufficient backup supplies of medical equipment to meet surge capacity needs, which can be critical, as the response to last year’s Hurricane Katrina proved. @ The full report is available via SM Online.

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