Posted on January 31, 2000 at 10:47 a.m.
BIRMINGHAM, AL — The Alabama Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), has received a one-year $1.03 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to enhance the state's preparedness for chemical and biological terrorist acts.
Overall, states received $41 million. "This is the first major effort by the federal government to help health state departments strengthen their response capabilities to terrorist attacks," says Michael Maetz, V.M.D., interim chair of the department of epidemiology and international health at UAB and a leader of UAB's proposed Center for Disaster Preparedness.
"Participation by the Alabama Department of Public Health and UAB in the activities encompassed in the grant will enable the state to maximize its readiness for any health outbreak whether of terrorist or natural origin," says Neil Sass, Ph.D., counterterrorrism coordinator for the Alabama Department of Public Health.
UAB's School of Public Health will be working with the Alabama Department of Public Health to conduct a statewide assessment of existing response capabilities and training needs, and to develop a comprehensive response plan. "Some state agencies already have plans in place, but they're not coordinated," says Maetz. "That will be the challenge, pulling it all together."
The state also received funding to improve related surveillance, biological laboratory capabilities and communications. "A focus of the program will be improving ways to identify terrorist acts, both biological and chemical, when they occur," says Jim McVay, Dr.P.A., public relations director for the Alabama Department of Public Health.
"We need to improve the process by which we determine if a threat is real or if it is a false alarm. The medical community is also key to alerting us when patients' symptoms indicate exposure to biological agents."
Although Alabama may not seem a likely target for bioterrorist acts, Maetz says the program will ultimately benefit the state in several ways. "This grant will strengthen the state's public health infrastructure, enhancing basic public health work in areas such as epidemiology, surveillance and laboratory services."
It also is a good opportunity for UAB. "It gets us involved in an area we haven't been involved in before," says Maetz. "And it will strengthen our relationship with the health department, as well as with other agencies with which we have not traditionally worked."