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Last Updated

14 Dec 2002

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 28, 2001.

New fund to help CDC act fast in crises

M.A.J. McKenna - Staff

The first planeload of employees from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived in New York City seven hours after the World Trade Center crashes and rushed to hospitals and the health department.

But they couldn't relay their findings to one another or to headquarters: Cellphone networks were overloaded. The team needed satellite phones or two-way beepers, but they couldn't simply buy them: Federal regulations require bids for major purchases, a process that could have taken weeks.

The CDC Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports the federal agency, hopes to give the CDC's workers a $2 million shortcut around such obstacles. This week, the group will announce plans to create an Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund, a revolving account that the disease detectives could use for emergency equipment purchases or short-term additional staff.

"The things we demand as taxpayers, before we allow public money to be spent, don't let the CDC move as fast as it needs to in a crisis," said C. Charles Stokes, the foundation's president and CEO.

It is a difficult time to launch the funding appeal, Stokes acknowledged. Thanks to the terrorist kamikazes and the anthrax attacks, the CDC is overextended. But it is also in the public eye in a way that it has not been for years, with members of Congress promising to push through additional appropriations.

"If this does get in the budget, that money won't be available until the end of next year sometime," said Bernie Marcus, the chairman of Home Depot, who chairs the foundation's board and is a significant supporter. "We're living in a world that's moving at warp speed, and [the CDC] doesn't have the equipment or the communications ability to operate efficiently."

In a draft budget drawn up by the foundation, $1 million of the emergency fund would be used to hire up to 40 more Ph.D.s, epidemiologists and laboratory staff; $200,000 would be set aside for 10 field teams like the group that went to New York; and up to $500,000 would be spent on strategic planners and more technology.

The CDC Foundation, which began in 1995, raises money from businesses, nonprofits and individuals to support CDC-related programs in the United States and internationally. In 1999-2000, it distributed $10.8 million.