States lag in ability to handle big crisis

Many states still have not reviewed laws and rules for quarantine.
ATLANTA (AP) -- More than three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many state health departments are not prepared for a crisis, a government official said Wednesday.
Fewer than one in four states can respond 24 hours a day to alerts from hospitals about patients who may be suffering from biological or chemical attacks, said William Raub of the Department of Health and Human Services. Many states still have not reviewed laws and rules for quarantine, he said.
And many states are not able to immunize large groups of people from an emergency government supply of lifesaving vaccines, said Raub, the department's principal deputy assistant secretary for public health emergency preparedness. He did not specify which states lag behind.
States are struggling
"Preparing for catastrophic events almost guarantees readiness for lesser -- and possibly more likely -- challenges," said Raub, who spoke at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health conference. "Improving performance will be the key."
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, states have been expected to be prepared for a wide variety of crises, from natural disasters to attacks with biological weapons. More than 90 percent of states have met U.S. goals of having at least one epidemiologist in every metropolitan area of more than 500,000 people, Raub said.
Last month, the private Trust for America's Health released a report saying that the nation is struggling to develop plans for public health emergencies. The report said states that routinely deal with hurricanes and other natural disasters seem to be better prepared than others to handle bioterrorism.
Florida and North Carolina received the highest marks, while Alaska and Massachusetts had the lowest marks in the group's study.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.