State ranks high in survey on emergency preparedness

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri scored high marks in a national survey released Tuesday on preparedness for public health emergencies such as an influenza pandemic or a bioterrorism attack.

The state achieved nine of the 10 criteria used by the Trust for America's Health, a research group that since 2003 has assessed how prepared states are to deal with public health crises.

Missouri's preparations fell short only in the number of Medical Reserve Corps volunteers that would be available in an emergency, according to the report.

Missouri was one of 15 states that met nine out of 10 of the criteria. Seven states -- Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia -- met all 10. Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, Wisconsin and Wyoming had the lowest scores, meeting just six of the criteria.

The study concluded that, in general, states have made significant progress since the terrorist and anthrax attacks in 2001.

Officials with the Missouri Department of Public Safety were in a meeting Tuesday and unable to comment on the report. But Paul Fennewald, Missouri's homeland security coordinator, attributed the state's high marks to a concerted effort by state and local groups and individuals to prepare for a large-scale health emergency.

"We're all pulling in the same direction," Fennewald said. "It isn't all about the money available. You can throw money at the problem, but you have to have people come together with the right attitude to coordinate these things down to the local, community level."

The report found that Missouri has purchased all its allocation of antivirals, which would reduce the severity of influenza, and has an adequate plan for distributing supplies from a national repository of medical supplies in case of a pandemic.

The state also has enough laboratory space to test for biological threats and enough lab workers to provide around-the-clock analysis of the samples, according to the report.

In the one area where it fell short, Missouri had a total of 469 Medical Reserve Corps members, or eight per 100,000 people, short of the goal of 14 per 100,000, the study said. Medical Reserve Corps are community-based, organized groups of people with medical or health expertise who would respond in a health emergency. The numbers do not include volunteers from such groups as the Red Cross or Salvation Army.

Fennewald said everyone involved in homeland security is having to find more efficient ways to protect the public because millions of dollars in federal homeland security funds have been cut.

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