US needs better preparation to combat bio-terrorism attack

Tuesday, July 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The United States needs to train local emergency responders better and improve its medical capacities in case of biological terrorism, Gov. Frank Keating told a congressional subcommittee on Monday.

Keating shared his experiences from the aftermath of the Alfred P. Murrah Building bombing. He focused on how local personnel make the initial response to terrorism and must be the most credible and most prepared.

Keating and the panel of medical and military experts and former politicians reported to a veterans affairs subcommittee on national security. He said health care officials should be trained against this type of terrorism at the state level, where the first response would occur.

The exercise simulated what would happen if the country were faced with biological terrorism, in this case the introduction of smallpox. Keating portrayed himself, with Oklahoma among one of three sites in the initial outbreak.

``The federal government does not maintain rapid response teams in any area of expertise close enough to any potential terrorist target, save perhaps the White House, to allow them to be the first on the scene,'' Keating said.

From the exercise, the panel concluded that an attack like the smallpox outbreak would cripple the country because the government is unprepared and the nation lacks resources and strategies. Panelists said public health has become a national security issue.

The experiment showed that ``there is a major divide between the national and local participants'' on how to solve the problem, said Dr. John Hamre, president and chief executive officer for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The panel agreed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should coordinate a response to a biological attack. The panel's final report with 12 recommendations to increase preparedness will be sent to Congress and the president.

The exercise took place in June.