D.C. gets anti-terror aid

Speaking at the GW Hospital Thursday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced an increase in $1.1 billion in federal funds to help states become better prepared for bioterrorism.

“This is the largest one-time investment in national public health ever,” Thompson said, drawing applause.

Local and national media crowded the lobby for Thompson’s speech, after which he presented D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams with the District’s $12 million cut of the government money.

“Since September 11, we have made emergency preparedness our first priority,” Thompson said.

He recognized the GW Hospital, which created the first decontamination facility in the city after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“GW has truly been on the edge of emergency response planning,” Thompson said.

He explained that 20 percent of the funding was sent Thursday to state governors, with special appropriations for Los Angeles, D.C., Chicago and New York City. The rest will be apportioned after each state and city submits a comprehensive plan, endorsed by the state governor, to respond to bioterrorism or other outbreaks of infectious disease.

Thompson said the plans are due to HHS by March 15.

“We want a plan so the money is not wasted,” he said.

The funds were carved out of a $2.9 billion bioterrorism appropriations bill that President George W. Bush signed into law Jan. 10.

Each state received a $5 million base award, and the rest of the funding was determined by population.

Nationwide, Thompson said the money will purchase more vaccines and medical supplies, new research resources dedicated to bioterror and public health emergencies.

“When we were faced with the challenge of the anthrax attacks and September 11, we responded,” Thompson said. “We also recognized areas that we need to improve.”

Williams thanked Thompson for the funds, which he said would help improve the District’s infrastructure “in the event, God forbid, of a bioterrorist attack.”

Williams said the funding would go to upgrading D.C.’s infectious disease surveillance, public health labs and communication capabilities.

Thompson said it is not definite that these funds will become an annual program until the president announces next year’s budget, but he is “certain we will be back in another year to make another announcement.”

At the press conference, GW officials announced a free public health conference in the Media and Public Affairs Building Feb. 28. GW spokesman Richard Sheehe said students are invited to the all-day event, which will feature Centers for Disease Control experts speaking on emergency preparedness and is intended for policymakers and crisis managers from the government to private businesses.

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