Terrorism is focus at local emergency planning meeting

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

City officials and local emergency department representatives attended the second meeting of the Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Planning Committee meeting on Tuesday, where Brig. Gen. Wendell H. Gilbert, Deputy to the Governor, and two other speakers, addressed ways the state is working to prepare for possible terrorist attacks. Each speaker expressed the need for greater communication and security measures.
   "What the governor has done has been very hands-on with this problem; he has established the Tennessee Council on Homeland Security, and on the council are all the state cabinet members which would have something to do with this mission," Gilbert said. Gilbert said steps such as making sure crop dusters are in the right hands and implementing a security procedure for emergency vehicles are among steps taken to be prepared. "We put in a procedure that an ambulance or a fire truck or a police vehicle cannot be sold without clearance from the commissioner of safety," Gilbert said.
   The state also tested 1,500 samples during last fall's anthrax scare and none tested positive. The state has laboratories in Knoxville, Jackson and Nashville. Gilbert said the state is currently in the process of enhancing the laboratories capabilities. Other measures the state has taken, according to Gilbert, include an examination of the food supply and the development of a Citizen Corp.
   Steve Buttolph, a representative from the FBI, called for a Crisis Management Team structure in the private sector to protect business and industry. "The important thing to do is to build relationships at the federal, state, and local level," he said. Buttolph gave statistical data on the recovery rate for businesses following any type of disaster. Forty-five percent of all businesses fold after a crisis, according to Buttolph, and only three percent is spent on a recovery plan.
   Buttolph believes a partnership between the private sector and the public service sector will help businesses recover after a terrorist attack or other disaster, and that it is the responsibility of the local Emergency Planning Committee to initiate a dialogue so that businesses can be on a first name basis with emergency personnel. Buttolph presented the committee with handouts businesses can use to identify potential threats and reduce damages.
   Shirley Hughes, Director of Communicable Disease and Nurse Epidemiologist for the State Department of Public Health, discussed the threat of biological forms of terrorism and what the state is doing to prepare for any incidents in that area. She said the State Health Dept. has spent $17.5 million to build an infrastructure and that it plans to meet more frequently with local officials to create a plan. "Because, if we have a disaster, it will cross all lines," she said.
   Hughes said the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has a 'National Pharmaceutical Stockpile' at 12 undisclosed sites throughout the nation where medical officials have access to 50 tons of medical supplies, including antibiotics. She said that, during the Sept. 11 attack, the supplies reached New York City within six hours. "The supplies must be loaded onto a 747 and brought to an area, so you need 200-300 people to distribute them once they arrive," she said.
   Hughes also explained the State Health Dept. is looking at surveillance systems to get daily data from a variety of locations including schools, and also looking at hiring an epidemiologist in every region to monitor disease symptoms around the clock. At the end of the meeting, Carter County Executive, Truman Clark, mentioned the precarious balance needed to prepare for large-scale disaster. "If something happened, fingers are going to point fast and furious, so we must be trained. I'm still not out of the 1998 flood," he said.