Monday, October 4, 1999

State works
on bioterrorism
action plan

One goal will be to develop ways
of spotting disease that could be
the result of bioterrorism

By Helen Altonn


Ambulances from more than 20 counties converged when Islamic radicals exploded a bomb under New York's World Trade Center in February 1993, said Salvatore Lanzilotti, Department of Emergency Services director.

Honolulu -- the country's 11th largest city -- doesn't have that backup, so if anything happens here, he pointed out, "We have to deal with it ourselves."

Hawaii must treat bioterrorism as a serious threat "because of the large number of travelers that come through the islands and our proximity to troubled areas of the world," said state Health Director Bruce Anderson.

Both the state and city-county have pursued federal funding and are coordinating plans to detect and prepare for a bioterrorism attack.

The Health Department has received nearly $516,000 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a statewide health response plan for bioterrorism.

Lanzilotti's department has received two U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contracts totaling about $500,000 to write a health and safety plan for the health system and buy pharmaceutical supplies and equipment.

Civil defense also involved

The Oahu Civil Defense Agency is facilitating an additional $300,000 Department of Defense grant for training and equipment.

"Because of terrorist things going on around the world, the feeling is that large cities should be prepared so we're able to reduce the effect of an event," Lanzilotti said.

"In the big picture, if someone wants to do damage, they'll do real damage," he said. "But the more equipment we get, and the more training we get, will help save the lives of people who have to save lives and take care of the population."

The Health Department's health response plan will be coordinated with state and county civil defense disaster plans, said Philip P. Bruno, chief of the Communicable Disease Division.

He said one goal is to augment the epidemiology program to identify and investigate disease outbreaks that may be related to bioterrorism. Another is to establish early detection methods and prepare to respond to a bioterrorism event.

Bruno said his division will work with physicians and hospitals to detect any changes in the pattern of an illness that may provide early warning of a germ or chemical attack.

The epidemiology disease investigation unit is good but a bioterrorism event could result in thousands of people seriously ill or dying, he pointed out.

"We need to improve our lab capacity for rapid diagnosis of a mass of biological casualties, to figure out what it is and have medications and vaccines stockpiled and available to deploy rapid control measures."

Hospital system needs aid

The local hospital system also is good but it would need federal support to absorb mass casualties, Bruno said.

Besides improving upon disaster plans, he said the funding is aimed at bringing together community groups that need to be involved. "It is a very big job and this is only part of it."

Similar funding is expected over the next four years to plan the response program and more federal money is being sought for other areas, Bruno said.

He said the biological response plan will be part of the city-county's metropolitan medical response system for weapons of mass destruction.

Lanzilotti said the city has acquired more modern equipment that was made for the military and has become available for civilians. It has been distributed to fire, police and emergency services departments. He said the response plans and new equipment will enable health and emergency workers to reduce and minimize the effect of any event.

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