Special Role of the Governmental Public Health Infrastructure in Emergency Preparedness and Response

In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, federal, state, and local public health agencies—and indeed, the nation as a whole—have been grappling with the crucial question of whether the public health system is prepared to cope with future terrorist attacks. Even before the events of 2001, the threat of chemical terrorism had grown more real in the United States because of developments in the mid-1990s such as the discovery of the Iraqi biological weapons program and the release of sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo cult (Henderson, 1998). Resources put into the improvement of the public health system's ability to respond to bioterrorism will yield benefits that go far beyond that specific concern, but only if adequate funds are made available to strengthen the public health infrastructure's ability to detect and combat natural disease outbreaks, such as E. coli and other food-borne pathogens, and to work with other vital partners in the public health system to provide the protection necessary for the assurance of public health.

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