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Last Updated

06 Feb 2003

Source: Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2002.


Officials Warned on Bioterror


A leading expert on chemical and biological warfare warned Tuesday that local officials must do far more to prepare hospitals and fire and police departments for terrorist attacks that could occur with little notice.

Amy E. Smithson of the nonprofit Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., delivered the keynote speech at a three-day state-sponsored conference in the City of Industry on disaster preparedness. About 400 police, fire and public health officials attended.

Smithson said New York is far ahead of most other American cities in establishing a system to recognize the first indications of a biological attack through quick identification of new patterns of medicine purchases by sick people, emergency room admissions or calls to emergency lines. The United States is probably not on the verge of a massive chemical or biological attack, Smithson said.

Attacks that have occurred, such as those last year involving anthrax-laced mail, probably did not represent any attempt to kill people in large numbers, she said, and the threat could take decades to be realized.

Nonetheless, she said, "we know that Al Qaeda wants to kill people," and it is necessary to be ready.

The hospital system, she said, is not prepared at present to cope with large numbers of people, in the hundreds or thousands, descending on facilities to get treatment or preventive medicines in case smallpox or even more exotic diseases strike.

She said that fire and police departments must prepare to assist hospitals in handling large groups of distressed people and that it might even be a good idea to prepare to use fast-food chain restaurants to dispense preventive medicine at drive-through windows.