WMD readiness and the EMS stepchild

Nine years after the Anthrax attack that killed five and sickened 17 others, are we better prepared to recognize, respond and recover from a biological weapons attack? Click here to read the recently-published JEMS Insider article.

According to the Federal Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism, the answer is, “No.” In January, the commission issued its “Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism Report Card,” giving the U.S. an “F” in Biological Risks. The report asserts that bioterrorism is the “most likely WMD threat to the world.”

Among a list of capabilities found to be seriously lacking is in the area of medical technical and operational countermeasures, such as the antidotes that would mitigate the consequences of an attack. The failing grade comes despite the extensive work by the DOD, the National Institutes of Health and other national laboratories. Real-time bio-detection technology and medical countermeasures are on the horizon, but were overlooked in the report.

What about the front lines?
While lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been generous with fire and law enforcement funding, there seems to be mixed priorities about EMS. There is neither an EMS champion on the Hill to push those interests through Congress, nor a focused EMS agency to execute any such mandate. As a result, the EMS component of WMD response is overlooked at the national level. Local effort is the closest the report comes to addressing EMS’s role in readiness.

And local readiness is hampered by lack of national focus. “At the end of the day,” according to Dr. Paul Maniscalco, senior research scientist and principal investigator at The George Washington University Office of Homeland Security, “we still have EMS crews that don’t have the necessary equipment and don’t have the necessary knowledge.”

Raise your voice.
As stated in the JEMS Insider article, EMS’s readiness to acts of terrorism requires sustained funding for personal protective equipment, training, antidotes, technology transfer, EMS interoperability issues, threat assessments and other operational issues. Without an EMS-specific, congressionally-chartered agency, monies will continue to be siphoned off to other federal interests. But EMS doesn’t have to continue to be short-changed for its valuable contribution. You can voice your concerns through your local and state EMS agencies and they in turn to their local, state and national representatives until a fully-funded, federally-administered program is in place.