Experts question preparation of EMS in bioterror event

The federal Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism's recent "Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism Report Card" raised the specter of the U.S.'s lack of preparation to protect its people and frontline responders in the face of a bioterror attack.

"The lack of U.S. capability to rapidly recognize, respond and recover from a biological attack is the most significant failure identified in this report card," the report said. "Unfortunately, there is no national plan to coordinate federal, state and local efforts following a bioterror attack, and the United States lacks the technical and operational capabilities required for an adequate response."

"Especially troubling," the report says, is the "lack of priority given to the development of medical countermeasures - the vaccines and medicines that would be required to mitigate the consequences of an attack."

"While it's alarming, it's not surprising," Paul Maniscalco, Ph.D., MPA, MS, EMT-P, senior research scientist and principal investigator at The George Washington University Office of Homeland Security told "The government has done a pretty good job of protecting things, but a less adequate - and at times substandard - job of protecting people."

Jerome Hauer, the chief executive officer of the emergency management consulting firm The Hauer Group, told that while the U.S. doesn't yet have medical countermeasures for every biological event, the report also failed to acknowledge the "extensive work going on for a lot of biological threats at the National Institutes of Health. In time, we will see new countermeasures for anthrax and other biological threats - tularemia, plague, botulinum. HHS has been doing a lot of work to deal with these issues."

Hauer also took the report to task for failing to cite the Strategic National Stockpile as an effective means of distribution for medical countermeasures.

"It's clearly an uninformed grade that really lacks any substance behind it," Hauer said.

Hauer also called for consolidated national recognition and funding for Emergency Medical Services, which would be on the frontline of a bioterror response.

"What I find fascinating on the biological risk - which is where they give a damn - is they do not mention the whole issue of hospital surge capacity or EMS surge capacity," Hauer said. "If they want to give something an ‘F,' they should have focused on the fact that we have not yet recognized EMS as a critical part of the response to bioterrorism, chemical terrorism, nuclear terrorism. It's very frustrating.

"The folks on the Hill don't recognize EMS. Part of the problem with living inside the Beltway - the members of Congress have their own private ambulance service, their own doctors, paramedics, response capability. So, it's not an issue that's near and dear to anyone's heart.

"There are no real credible spokespeople for EMS that have the political leverage to get their governors involved, to get their members of Congress involved."

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