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Spring 2002
Confronting the terror within
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Now that the initial work in education, resource assessment and protocol development is complete, much of the focus has shifted to ongoing training to ensure that the hospital and campus can respond seamlessly to a bioterrorist act. Prophetically, the campus' Office of Environment, Health and Safety, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Police Department and local FBI office, had a practice drill in August that simulated a response to a device containing anthrax. A statewide bioterrorism drill held last November had been planned well before September 11. Other training initiatives and dry runs are scheduled.

"Obviously if someone is diagnosed with a case of smallpox or anthrax, a whole system of notification starts spinning up to the highest levels of the Federal Public-Health System," says David Pegues. "But there might be something lurking more insidiously beneath the surface."

UCLA's efforts in bioterrorism preparedness extend beyond campus boundaries. Linda Rosenstock, dean of the School of Public Health, has been a leading national voice in calling for a renewed investment in the country's public-health infrastructure. "That investment has been inadequate for at least a few decades," she says. "It's getting better, but we still need enormous support for our local health departments." (In his FY 2003 budget, President Bush proposed $4.3 billion in new bioterrorism spending, including an expansion of early-warning systems to detect infectious outbreaks.)

Meanwhile, the individual with the ultimate responsibility for L.A. County's response plan is a UCLA School of Public Health professor. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for the county's Department of Health Services, has overseen efforts not unlike those at UCLA, though on a larger scale: enhanced disease surveillance, increased laboratory capacity, beefed-up communication systems and considerable physician and public education, including a bioterrorism Web site, www.labt.org.

Some of that education has taken place in Westwood. Fielding has sent several members of his staff to audit a two-unit course, "Terrorism and Mass Destruction," taught by School of Public Health epidemiologist Scott P. Layne and featuring lectures by other bioterrorism experts from UCLA and elsewhere. Layne and Katona are among several UCLA faculty who have participated on the county's bioterrorism advisory group, and Pegues and others have assisted the county's acute-communicable-disease staff.

"Certainly there is great expertise at UCLA, and we're using that to the degree that it can help us," Fielding says.

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