SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL SECURITY, VETERANS AFFAIRS,


Christopher Shays, Connecticut


Room B-372 Rayburn Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

Tel: 202 225-2548

Fax: 202 225-2382

[email protected]

Statement of Rep. Christopher Shays

September 22, 1999


How does a nation prepare for the unthinkable?

The specter of mass casualties caused by a terrorist’s release of radiological, chemical or biological weapons grows larger on our domestic horizon. In a world made more dangerous by the proliferation of the technologies of mass destruction, and by the willingness of some to use them against us, the once improbable has become the inevitable.

Are we prepared?

By most accounts, the answer is no. Despite significant efforts to combat terrorism and improve national readiness, medical response capabilities are not yet well developed or well integrated into consequence management plans. Providers are not trained to diagnose or treat the uncommon symptoms and diseases of unconventional warfare. Public health surveillance systems are not sensitive enough to detect the early signs of a terrorist-induced outbreak. Hospitals and clinics lack the space, equipment and medicines to treat the victims of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Combating terrorism challenges federal, state and local governments to coordinate response plans, train and equip critical personnel and integrate military support. In previous oversight hearings, we examined federal spending priorities and the role of the National Guard in the early response to terrorism. Today we assess what is being done to help states and localities build a public health infrastructure capable of deterring, detecting, and if necessary treating those affected by terrorist events.

For more than symbolic reasons, we asked first responders to testify first. Preparing for low incidence, high consequence events is the daily business of public safety, public health and emergency management professionals. We have much to learn from them as we design and implement federal program to augment their work.

Witnesses from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Emergency Preparedness and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will then discuss the national program to support local first response, improve public health monitoring and stock the medical arsenal in the fight against terrorism. We appreciate their testimony, and their willingness to listen to their state and local partners.