Isles’ $8.4 million bioterror
plan approved by
federal government

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department yesterday approved Hawaii's bioterrorism preparedness plan developed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax mail scares.

Hawaii has received $8.4 million in federal funds to develop the plan.

"This funding not only gives Hawaii unprecedented improvement to respond to threats of bioterrorism," state Health Director Bruce Anderson said yesterday, "it also strengthens our public health infrastructure to deal with outbreaks of influenza, dengue fever or other diseases that are probably much more likely to occur here."

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced in January the allocation of $1.1 billion to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and three major cities -- New York, Chicago and Los Angeles -- to develop such plans.

"Hawaii can now more aggressively build its public health and emergency preparedness systems, providing greater protection and care for its citizens," Thompson said in a news release.

The preparedness initiative marked the first time federal, state and local governments have been asked to develop public health and emergency response systems.

State officials in Hawaii have said they plan to use the money primarily to bolster public health infrastructure and improve response time to threats.

"There's some specific criteria in the grant," Anderson said. "For example, we need to be able to distribute the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile materials so that within three to five days, we would be able to provide vaccines or antibiotics to virtually every resident in the state of Hawaii."

In a state where the strong military presence in places such as Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base serves as a constant reminder of the state's strategic location, preparations against bioterrorism and other threats began in the 1990s, state officials said.

"We're ahead of most states," Anderson said.

"Where I think we need to focus even more attention is in identifying a problem early and then to be able to respond quickly once that problem is identified."

As part of that effort, state Civil Defense has been using sophisticated equipment that can authoritatively detect the presence of biological agents such as anthrax. Since Sept. 11, Civil Defense has actively sought input from federal and state agencies, armed forces, police and fire departments and the private sector in developing a statewide response plan, said Edward Teixeira, vice director of Civil Defense.

"I would say we are prepared but certainly not where we should be in terms of capabilities. But we are working on that," Teixeira said.

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