By Anthony Lanzillotti
Pennsylvania Focuses on agro-terrorism, rural issues
Pennsylvania is proposing changes in the way federal funding is awarded to individual states, and at the same time is pushing certain emergency-preparedness and bio-terrorism issues into the spotlight. These initiatives are one result of a 2003 study – conducted in part by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Pittsburgh – that included a survey of public health officials from 26 states which revealed that most rural areas of the country not only are unprepared for a bio-terror attack but also that those areas would not be able to handle a large influx of citizens fleeing from an attack in an urban area.
Pennsylvania lawmakers and the state’s homeland-security officials hope to use the results of the study to help persuade the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take note of the different threats to, and vulnerabilities of, the nation’s rural areas. Agro-terrorism is the most obvious of those threats, and is compounded by the presence in many rural areas of large water supplies and in some areas by the activities of domestic terror groups. In undertaking this effort, Pennsylvania and other states that are much more rural in their economies and demographics are urging DHS to distribute funds based on a broader risk assessment that takes into account all threats, not just the better-publicized threats facing large cities and urban populations. In other words, the size of a state’s population, and the history of previous attacks, should be among the factors considered in the distribution of funds, but should not be the only or necessarily the principal factors.
Related Notes: Pennsylvania already has one fully operational public health laboratory, in Philadelphia, that would be a major asset in dealing with terrorist attacks (of any nature), and it has been proposed that another one be built in Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has issued guidance on biological agents and other weapons of mass destruction. The department’s very informative website (www.dsf.health.state.pa.us) provides excellent information on various topics related to emergency preparedness in a format that is easy for those outside of the medical profession to understand.
Massachusetts Sets Bio-Warfare Priorities
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) has been preparing a guidance document designed to assist emergency managers and medical personnel who are called on to respond to a biological attack. The document, titled "Emergency Dispensing Site Management and Operations" – most recently updated at the beginning of March 2005 –entifies the specific roles and responsibilities of the medical personnel and state agencies most likely to be involved in Emergency Dispensing Site (EDS) operations.
During a state emergency, MDPH will work through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) toentify areas where vaccines and/or medications are needed. The document not only offers guidance to communities for planning and setting up their local EDSs but also lays out the objectives for setting up EDS locations within 24 hours of the initial notification of a biological incident or event, or other type of biological release. Convenient checklists are included to facilitate EDS planning and implementation.
By prioritizing the issues of preparedness for, and response to, a biological weapon attack, the Massachusetts document might well be used as an example by other states seeking a blueprint for their own preparedness efforts. It can safely be assumed that emergency planners in other states will be particularly interested in seeing how well the Massachusetts plans facilitate operations during exercises, especially when carried out in conjunction with the federal BioWatch program, which is designed to provide early warning of a biological attack.eally, these and similar efforts throughout the country will help mitigate the effects of future attacks and keep casualties at a minimum.
Illinois Governor Blagojevich Upgrades HS Capabilities
Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich has announced the award of grants to two Illinois companies that support the homeland-security industry. Through the governor's “Opportunity Returns” program, grants of $100,000 each were awarded to TechAlt Inc. and Midco Inc. for employee training and development to meet the state’s homeland-security needs. The grants were awarded after Blagojevich committed – in his “State of the State” address earlier this year – to reinforcing the state's homeland-security capabilities. TechAlt provides solutions for secure communications platforms for first responders; Midco provides certain technological products used for integrating secure communications across diverse technology platforms as well as routers for physical-security systems.
In other preparedness news, the Illinois Emergency Services Management Association (IESMA) has started to implement the Illinois Emergency Management Mutual Aid System (IEMMAS). The goal of IESMA – an organization of the state’s local emergency services and disaster agencies – is to support local jurisdictions and counties requesting help during emergency situations. Through the IEMMAS program, IESMA drafted a mutual-aid agreement with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) for providing mutual aid anywhere within the State of Illinois when requested through the State Emergency Operations Center. Three regional support teams are being developed to support local agencies within the state during natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and/or other emergencies. The continued support for homeland security and emergency-preparedness initiatives provided by independent associations and the private sector is not unique to Illinois, but is characteristic of that state’s approach to such matters.
Wyoming Adds Multipurpose Boat for Inland Waterways
The Wyoming Office of Homeland Security allocated funds last year to the Wyoming Game and Fish (WGF) Department for the purchase of a new multipurpose boat that could be used for patrol, incident-prevention, and incident-response operations throughout the state’s extensive inland-waterways system. Various dams and power plants are co-located with the numerous reservoirs and rivers in Wyoming. The WGF has other watercraft in its inventory, but the sturdy welded aluminum hull of the newly acquired boat will make it particularly useful for operations in deep water. The boat – which is outfitted with a full complement of law-enforcement and safety equipment – will be made available to other state agencies for a variety of missions.
The acquisition of the new watercraft comes in the wake of a 26 percent reduction in federal homeland-security grants to the state. An undetermined number of state projects will be affected by the federal cuts, but Wyoming remains optimistic because of the new categories added to authorized purchases and the technical assistance being offered by the U.S. Office of Domestic Preparedness. All of the states affected by the reductions will have to improvise, and perhaps even compromise, on their efforts to achieve their goals, and Wyoming’s planned use of the new boat provides a good example of how to do it. Federal, state, and local officials disagree on many issues, but they all agree that interoperability and cooperation both need to be stressed in order to efficiently and effectively utilize all available resources in the Global War on Terrorism.