Preparing the Nation for Another Terrorist Attack

Sept. 11, 2002
One year after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and subsequent outbreaks of anthrax, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to aggressively work with its Health and Human Services partners - such as the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the Office of Emergency Response (OER) - to prepare the nation for the possibility of another terrorist attack.

"The nature of terrorism and mass casualty incidents requires a high level of coordination with a variety of partners," says HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. "First responders will be local so we need to help them be prepared with everything from proper equipment to training and lab capacity. But such an event could quickly overcome local resources and we need to have substantial back-up resources ready to go and capable of helping to respond to different kinds of events - natural and chemical disasters as well as acts of terrorism."

CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding says that HHS and CDC have spent the last year searching for opportunities to improve emergency and terrorist response. "One of the most important things we've done is to provide $918 million from HHS in record time to state and local health departments to help them improve their readiness," adds Gerberding.

The money is helping to build better laboratories and better systems for detecting a potential terrorist attack, as well as expanded communications systems to get information to public health workers and clinicians quickly. "These investments will not only pay off in terms of terrorism preparedness, but public health in general will also benefit," she adds.

The grant money will support bioterrorism, infectious disease and public health emergency preparedness activities at the state and local levels.

"It's important that we not become complacent now that the money has been provided to states, cities and territories and September 11 is farther behind us," says Thompson. "The urgency to build up our preparedness still remains. We must stay focused on the task at hand and make sure we build as quickly as possible."

More than 2,000 CDC employees participated in some aspect of the response to the anthrax attacks, comprising the largest rapid mobilization of CDC staff for a single public health issue in the agency's history.

"The biggest lesson I personally learned from last fall's anthrax attacks was just how strong CDC really is," says Gerberding. "CDC's response to the anthrax attacks required input from experts throughout the agency and they were there. We have the people, we have the plans and now we have the practice. We're building our knowledge and capacity everyday to assure that CDC and our partners are ready to respond to any terrorist event."

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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