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Spring 2002
Confronting the terror within
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Terrorism has come home, and to meet the new threat of biological assault UCLA has marshaled its best and brightest minds

By Dan Gordon '85
Illustration by Tavis Coburn

Terrorism in the homeland — the attacks in New York and Washington and the flurry of anthrax-tainted letters that killed five people, infected 18 and forced 30,000 Americans onto a regimen of prophylactic antibiotics — occurred thousands of miles from Los Angeles. But as the nation's attention was fixed on the East Coast and the sobering threat of biological assault, UCLA was actively engaged on the Western Front.

In those anxious days and weeks, UCLA's Office of Environment, Health and Safety responded to about 100 incidents of suspected anthrax on campus. The calls, says Rick Greenwood M.P.H. '75, Ph.D. '78, director of the office, ranged from sightings of white powder to suspicious letters. None of them amounted to anything — nor did the large number of cases of UCLA patients who feared that their rashes were cutaneous anthrax. But it was enough to make one think: If a concentrated outbreak thousands of miles away can keep the campus and hospital that busy, what would it be like if a more potent biological or chemical attack were focused on the West Coast — or West Los Angeles?

As a Level-1 trauma facility, UCLA Medical Center is open to any and all medical emergencies, and it is anticipated the hospital would receive a large number of cases in any regional disaster. As a leader in the delivery of primary care — at the campus hospital and through satellite hospitals and outpatient clinics — UCLA physicians and nurses could be on the front lines of a bioterrorist act. That understanding of this past fall's events prompted UCLA to create a 30-member Bioterrorism Preparedness Task Force to ensure that the campus and its medical community are as prepared as can be for what had been, to most people, an unthinkable event. And with its share of faculty among those who have thought about such things, the campus is playing a prominent role in prepping the state's physicians and public-health professionals, as well as informing legislators and educating the public.

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