As Americans Reflect on 9/11, HHS and CDC Continue to Aggressively Prepare the Nation for Another Terrorist Attack
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will join the rest of the nation on September 11 to look back in somber reflection at the tragic events of that day one year ago. CDC responded to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center that deeply affected all Americans, and when anthrax attacks began less than a month later, CDC joined with other federal agencies and state and local health departments to investigate the nation's first bioterrorism attack using anthrax. One year later, CDC continues to aggressively work with its HHS partners - such as NIH, FDA and the Office of Emergency Response (OER) - to prepare the nation for the possibility of another terrorist attack.
According to HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, "The nature of terrorism and mass casualty incidents requires a high level of coordination with a variety of partners. 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."
"As we reflect on the tragic events of 9/11, HHS and CDC have had the opportunity to take inventory of what we've accomplished over the past year to improve our terrorism preparedness," says Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director. "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. That 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."
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 Secretary 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."
CDC has been responding to public health emergencies for decades and has been preparing for bioterrorism in particular since 1998.
The anthrax attacks reinforced what we already knew, that the first line of defense in a terrorist attack is rapid identification - essential for triggering a prompt response to a biological or chemical attack so exposure can be limited and those affected can be treated as quickly as possible. More than 2000 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."
Last fall, HHS and CDC's efforts to prepare for another terrorism event were accelerated. Today, the agency's and the nation's laboratories are bigger and stronger than they were a year ago and CDC's rapid response teams are larger, specially trained and ready at a moment's notice to be deployed anywhere there is a suspected terrorist attack. In addition, the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile has been expanded to include more medical supplies, additional pediatric supplies and antibiotics, as well as antidotes for chemical agents. Stockpile personnel can deliver these supplies to the people who need it anywhere in the United States within 12 hours.
In addition, over the past year ongoing HHS efforts have focused on smallpox vaccine research as well as a variety of potential terrorist events, including attacks involving radiation and chemicals. CDC scientists are working with scientists at other federal agencies such as the FBI, Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as with state health departments to coordinate responses to various potential forms of terrorism, including those involving chemical agents.
HHS and CDC will also be working closely with other federal agencies and partners in the area of homeland security, according to Gerberding. "We are at the table as decisions are being made regarding the preparedness of our nation. Since 9/11, our partnerships with many federal agencies, such as the OHS, FBI, FEMA, EPA and the U.S. Postal Service have strengthened, as have our relationships with our state and local public health partners, all of whom have a stake in protecting our nation's health and safety."
To answer the public's questions, CDC has two public information hotlines - the National Immunization Hotline can provide answers to questions about anthrax and smallpox disease and vaccination issues (1-800-232-2522), whereas the CDC Public Response Hotline can answer the public's questions concerning exposure during a terrorist threat (1-888-246-2675.)
And should the worst happen, and the nation be faced with another attack of terrorism, would CDC be ready? A wholehearted "yes" says Gerberding. "The process of preparing for a terrorist attack is a continual one with no real endpoint, but even today CDC's level of preparedness is very high. We have the plans, the policies, the people, the products, and now we have the practice to make sure we are ready to respond."
CDC protects people's health and safety by preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health decisions by providing credible information on critical health issues; and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local, national and international organizations.