"Inadequate money is being spent on the threat of biological terrorism," said Dr. Thomas V. Inglesby, an infectious disease specialist at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
While the federal government spends about $11 billion each year on counterterrorism, the bulk of that money is allocated to police, fire and intelligence operations.
Of the $260 million allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services, just $40 million was allocated to the 50 states and the District of Columbia in fiscal year 2000 for use by health agencies, said Inglesby.
Potential problems include inadequate hospital capacity and shortages of antibiotics, vaccines and other medications. Local and state officials also need to react more quickly, Inglesby said, to quarantine those initially infected and prevent them from traveling to other communities.
"This problem will not blow up in one city and stay there," said Inglesby, who has written extensively on the use of anthrax, plague and smallpox as biological weapons. "This is a problem that will move."
Since the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City and the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo, Japan, subway system, millions in federal funds have been spent to distribute protective suits and other equipment to the states. But the gear would be of little use against airborne germs or biocontaminants placed in the food or water supply.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson Tuesday told state officials to intensify preparations for a possible biological weapons attack, saying an incident was likely at some point.
"Someday we're more than likely going to be hit by some sort of bioterrorism in America," Thompson told a National Governors' Association summit on domestic terrorism.
Thompson stressed that he did not know when or where such an attack would occur, but urged states to do what they could to get ready.
To prepare for the threat, he announced the appointment of Dr. Scott Lillibridge, the former director of bioterrorism preparedness and response at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lillibridge, who will coordinate national response plans, said the threat of bioterrorism was of great concern to national intelligence and security advisers.
"We're concerned enough to shore up this vulnerability," he said.
President Bush's fiscal year 2002 budget proposes an investment in the HHS anti-bioterrorism initiative of $348 million, an 18 percent increase over fiscal year 2001 funding.
The National Governors Association is hosting a two-day public policy summit for safety, health, National Guard and emergency management officials. The National Emergency Management Association is cosponsoring the conference.
On Tuesday, attendee participated in a five-hour exercise in which officials from several states responded to a mock plague attack on the capital of New Aberdeen, a fictitious east coast state in the general vicinity of Delaware. The game was designed to get conference participants to focus on "homeland security," a euphemism for domestic terrorism threats.
The first responders to such incidents would be local police, fire and public health professionals and volunteers, said Gov. Robert E. Wise, D-W.Va. Wise and other governors are calling for county authorities to have access to improved communications equipment and a national terrorism database.
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