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'Partially prepared' for bio-trouble

December 7, 2007
by Aurelio Rojas
Sacramento Bee

An unprecedented study of California's ability to respond to bioterrorism or a major natural disease outbreak has concluded that local health departments are "partially prepared," but gaps remain because of staffing shortages and aging infrastructure. Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust For America's Health, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group that assesses the states' preparedness, lauded the report for its "transparency." The assessment of the state's emergency preparedness was conducted over two years by the Health Officers Association of California under a $2 million contract from the state Department of Health Services. More than 700 public health, environmental, hospital, law enforcement and emergency officials were involved. No statewide study of the state's readiness to respond to natural disaster or bioterrorism had been previously undertaken. According to the 273-page report, since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the 58 county and three city public health departments that constitute the state's front lines against bioterrorism and communicable diseases have come a "long way." The effort has been bolstered by an infusion of federal funds. In fiscal year 2005-06, the period generally covered by the study, local jurisdictions received nearly $86 million in federal money to improve their ability to respond to biological attacks. But despite 428 newly created positions for emergency preparedness, local health departments "have a thin line of public health staff to fulfill their missions."

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