Florida Is Only State Ready for Bioterror

W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 1 — The federal government has truckloads of medicine and vaccines ready to deploy should bioterrorism strike, but only one state is fully prepared to receive and distribute those treatments. Federal officials say that while states have made considerable progress in preparing for bioterrorism, much work remains. "Our biggest concern is we will get to a location and a state or a city will not be ready," said Jerry Hauer, assistant secretary for public health preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services. Even Florida, the one state deemed ready to receive the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, still must conduct drills to make sure its plans will work. Federal officials emphasize that states still could handle an emergency if they had to, even if they are not considered prepared. After the Sept. 11 attacks, when the stockpile was deployed for the first time, it took New York City officials "several valuable hours" figuring out where to send 50 tons of general medical supplies and how to secure them — but eventually the medicine was delivered, said Steven Bice, who runs the program for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today was the deadline for states to report progress in preparing for bioterrorism. Key questions asked by HHS included how they will distribute medicine, where they can provide 500 hospital beds in case of mass casualties and how hospitals will isolate highly contagious patients. Most regions are not prepared to dedicate 500 beds in an emergency, much less the 1,500 beds that they are supposed to have in place by next year, Hauer said. Even fewer communities have rooms in place inside hospitals that could be used to isolate infectious victims of bioterror attacks. Meanwhile, states have until Dec. 1 to produce detailed plans for vaccinating their entire populations within days of a smallpox attack. So far, plans have been filed by only 20 of the 62 states, large cities and territories that are receiving federal bioterrorism money. And those plans, not yet scrutinized, may have serious holes, health officials say. Many states admit they are far from ready. In Kentucky, officials have not yet figured out who will deliver the shots or where to find the people to do it, said Dr. Steven Englender, the state epidemiologist. He said it could take 60,000 people at 250 clinics to vaccinate Kentucky's 4 million people over five days. "That's the math. The practicality is something different," Englender said in an interview this week. Hauer says that math could be conservative if there were an outbreak of smallpox — a highly contagious, fatal disease. "Five days might actually be a luxury," Hauer said. Early this year, the federal government began distributing $1.1 billion to help cities and states improve communication systems, upgrade labs, hire disaster coordinators and otherwise build up neglected public health systems. At the last progress report, in June, HHS identified several problems. In Arkansas, officials had plans to train people to respond to bioterrorism, but not to detect disease in the first place. In Delaware, planners identified hospital beds for 250 unexpected patients, just half of what federal rules require. In Kansas, officials were planning on spending $250,000 to handle the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile; federal officials said they should count on needing $1 million. Nearly one in three states failed to show how they would work with bordering states, and about half the states failed to include Indian tribes in planning. Jack Pittman, administrator of public health preparedness at the Florida Department of Health, agreed that working with tribes is a problem. "We've invited them to formally sit with us on advisory committees. To this date they have not taken us up on that," he said. Another concern is states with budget crunches will have federal money to hire needed workers, but won't be allowed to spend it because of state hiring freezes. The most urgent issue may be the handling of the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile. The federal government can deliver 50 tons of medical supplies to any city in the United States within 12 hours. But communities must be ready to take control of these supplies from the airport. They must have transportation and security for the supplies and a place to distribute them. They need people who can repackage huge cartons of antibiotics into individual doses. Federal officials use a traffic light metaphor to characterize readiness for the 62 projects, which include the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the cities of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, and three associated independent states: Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. Just one project, Florida, is "green," meaning ready to go, pending a rehearsal. Two states are "red," Wisconsin — HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's home state — and Hawaii, meaning they are making little or no progress. Also red: Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Six projects haven't been reviewed yet; the remaining 51 are rated "amber," meaning they are making significant progress toward readiness but aren't there yet. For instance, some state plans relied on the National Guard, but HHS pointed out that the Guard might be unavailable in an emergency, said Bill Raub, who is reviewing state plans for HHS. Preparedness is an ongoing process, and HHS doesn't expect this week's progress reports to be the final word, Raub added. "We just want to make sure they are moving down the right road."

— The Associated Press

U.S. Relents on Security Rules for Canadians

O T T A W A, Nov. 1 — Canada said on Thursday that Washington had backed down in a dispute over new U.S. security rules and would no longer require Canadian citizens born in some Middle Eastern states to be fingerprinted and photographed on arrival in the United States.

But U.S. officials said that while the rules had been made more flexible, their agents reserved the right to stop any visitor to the United States and — if deemed necessary — take fingerprints and photographs.

Canadian legislators were furious over the U.S. rules when it emerged on Wednesday that the Foreign Ministry had issued an unusual travel advisory telling Canadian citizens born in eight nations to think carefully about entering the United States for any reason, just in case they ended up in trouble.

Travel advisories are usually issued for hot spots like the Middle East, not for allies like the United States.

Some members of Parliament said Ottawa should retaliate, perhaps obliging U.S. citizens with criminal records to be fingerprinted before they entered Canada or help launch a court challenge to the new rules in U.S. courts.

Foreign Minister Bill Graham told Parliament that U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci had informed him Canadians would no longer be subjected to the rules, introduced on the anniversary of last year's Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"What is happened is that we have a clear recognition by the United States that the place of birth is not the determining factor as to whether a person is subject to the security measures," Graham later told reporters.

The new U.S. rules affect anyone born in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan or Syria. Ottawa says Canadians born in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Yemen could also attract special attention.

U.S. officials said Cellucci had in fact told Graham that Canadians who had been born in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, or Syria would not necessarily be stopped at the border.

"If a person was born in Tehran and hasn't been there for 30 years, there will probably be no problems. If they have been in Tehran in last six months, there will probably be questions," one U.S. official told Reuters.

"People could still be subjected to it [fingerprinting and photographs] if there is some suspicion. But just a place of birth [on a passport] wouldn't necessarily trigger this."

Sarkis Assadourian, a Liberal legislator born in Syria, said he was delighted by Washington's apparent change of mind.

"I'm a very happy Canadian, happier than ever before. I guess they realized they were wrong," he told reporters. Earlier in the day he had suggested fingerprinting all Americans with criminal records who wanted to enter Canada.

Ottawa's travel warning followed the controversial deportation of a Canadian citizen by the United States to Syria, his birthplace, earlier this month.

Well-informed sources said bureaucrats at the Foreign Ministry had been deluged by abusive and obscene e-mails from U.S. citizens, many accusing Canada of harboring militants and urging all Canadians to stay home.

Alexa McDonough, leader of the left-leaning minority New Democrats, said she was glad Graham had decided to stand up to Washington after "wimping out" on earlier occasions.

"The backbone of the foreign minister has finally been stiffened and it appears he has done what he should have done [earlier]," she told reporters, saying she still had some reservations over what would happen next.

— Reuters

FBI Says Terror Groups Have Members in U.S

W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 1 — The FBI believes extremist groups continue to

have members in the United States who could be called upon for

terrorist attacks, the Justice Department has told the Senate

Intelligence Committee.

At least one group, Hezbollah, may be more interested in using

its U.S. members to raise money than to undertake attacks, the

department said.

The comments, in a document released Thursday, were part of the

department's written responses submitted on July 26 to questions

from the committee in February.

Responding to a question about the involvement of Hezbollah,

Hamas and other terrorist groups in the United States, the

department said FBI investigations "indicate the continued

presence of suspected extremists of various groups who could be

called upon to attack in the United States."

It said Hezbollah, in particular, appears to have the ability to

strike in the United States. Some Hezbollah members may have been

instructed to evaluate potential targets. But that may have only

been a test to prove their loyalty to Hezbollah and Iran, which

backs the group.

The department noted Hezbollah has never conducted a terrorist

strike in the United States. Hezbollah is blamed, though, for the

1983 bombing of a Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, that

killed 241 American servicemen.

Hezbollah members are used mostly to raise money for the group's

overseas operations, the report said. Hezbollah fighters in

southern Lebanon frequently attack Israel.

"To date, it is believed that this extensive fund-raising

activity itself acts as a disincentive for operational terrorist

activity in the United States," according to the document.

It did not say if this was also true of other groups, such as

Hamas, the militant Palestinian organization. The State Department

has classified both Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist groups.

The document also warned that the potential for terrorist

attacks in the United States continues. CIA Director George Tenet

and homeland security director Tom Ridge have issued similar

warnings in recent weeks.

But the document also reports advances in the campaign against

Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, partly as a result of strong

cooperation with foreign law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

— The Associated Press

Congress Races to Complete Sept. 11 Inquiry

W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 1 — The findings of a congressional inquiry into

the Sept. 11 attacks could be shaped by lawmakers who have had

little to do with the investigation, if intelligence committees

fail to complete their work by the end of the year.

Congressional staff are racing to complete their report so it

can be approved before January by the House and Senate intelligence

committees conducting the inquiry. But they're unsure they'll meet

the deadline.

Regardless of next week's congressional election results, the

committees will have new leaders and new members. Some of the new

members may have different ideas about why intelligence agencies

didn't prevent the attacks and what changes are needed to

strengthen the fight against terrorism.

Among those leaving the Senate committee is Richard Shelby,

R-Ala., the panel's top Republican and one of the biggest critics

of the CIA. The leading Republican on the panel next year will

probably be Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., one of the agency's main

defenders during the inquiry.

In months of closed and public hearings, inquiry staff and

committee leaders have focused on the failure of the CIA, FBI and

other agencies to share information with each other and within

their own organizations. Hill has suggested that the hijacking plot

might have been uncovered if key clues had been connected.

The final report is likely to include recommendations for

improving communications and intelligence analysis. Among the

proposals lawmakers have heard are a new domestic intelligence

agency and a new position overseeing overall intelligence

operations.

Inquiry staff hope to complete a draft, classified version of

the report, circulate it among the committees' 37 members for

comment, and have them vote on it before Congress ends on Jan. 3.

An unclassified version would be released later.

If the classified version isn't approved in time, the new

Congress' intelligence committees would have final say on the

report. "We would have new members who may not have been so

familiar with the testimonies," Hill said.

A member of the House committee, Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., said

he is confident a report will be completed before he leaves the

House in January. Even if it isn't, he said, he already helped

shape it by participating in hearings and meetings.

But he admits he would be "somewhat disappointed" and

concerned about having a revamped committee consider it.

But Charles Tiefer, deputy House counsel from 1984-1995, said

the changes in the committees could "disrupt the delicate

understandings worked out by the existing committee leadership and

it could become difficult, if not impossible, for a whole new group

to achieve as much."

If the committees rush to approve a report before January, that

might force compromises that could weaken tough conclusions, said

Tiefer, a University of Baltimore law professor.

— The Associated Press

Government Considers Smallpox Testing in Children

W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 1 — The government is seeking public input before

it decides whether to let a few dozen toddlers and preschoolers be

vaccinated against smallpox, a study to test the best children's

vaccine dose but one raising thorny questions about safety and

ethics.

The vaccine is made of a live virus called vaccinia that can

cause its own infections until the injection site scabs over, so

researchers plan to keep inoculated children out of day care or

school for a month. But still there is a chance that youngsters

could tear off their bandages and put relatives, playmates or

others at risk.

There also is the question of whether it is ethical to test in

healthy children a vaccine that could cause a life-threatening

reaction when the children probably won't benefit from it — unless

a bioterrorist attacks with smallpox.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that for the

next month it will accept public comment on whether the University

of California, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati Children's Hospital

should inoculate 40 2- to 5-year-olds with smallpox vaccine. They

would be the first children to get the shots since routine

vaccination ended in 1972.

It's highly unusual for the FDA to seek public opinion on

research.

"It is a very challenging issue because there is no smallpox

circulating right now," said Dr. Karen Midthun, the FDA's head of

vaccine research. "There is great concern that there be a lot of

safeguards for studies being conducted in children."

"This is an unusual time, it's an unusual need and I think the

risks are not totally insignificant," said Dr. Joel Ward of UCLA,

the lead researcher. "So I think this extra care is appropriate."

Although wild smallpox was eradicated in the 1970s, officials

fear that laboratory samples might have fallen into terrorists'

hands. The Bush administration is preparing to make vaccine

available again, first to certain health-care workers and later to

the general public.

Based on studies from the 1960s, 15 of every 1 million people

vaccinated will suffer life-threatening reactions, and one or two

of them will die.

Children once routinely got the smallpox shot, so why is new

testing an issue?

The vaccine has been kept frozen for 30 years. To ensure there

are enough still-potent shots to go around until new ones are made,

scientists are studying whether diluted doses work. Recent studies

in adults suggest they do. The planned pediatric study, sponsored

by the National Institutes of Health, would test those weaker doses

in young children, whose immune systems work differently than those of

adults.

— The Associated Press

9/11 Inspires Political Novices to Run for Congress

W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 1 — Elle Kurpiewski was a flight attendant bound for Los Angeles on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Pilot Adam Taff woke up to learn his flight out of L.A. had been canceled.

Across the country, New York firefighter Joe Finley raced to the World Trade Center, while Ohio single mother Judy Locy watched the towers collapse on television. In Texas, attorney Mike Rivera Ortega tried to re-enlist in the Marines but was turned down.

Propelled by their experiences on that day, all five political novices say they decided to run for Congress.

"I feel compelled to try to help, to make sure that we don't get complacent about what happened," says firefighter Finley, a Long Island Republican who is challenging Democratic Rep. Steve Israel. "We need someone in Congress who's worked down there, not just people who passed through there for a photo."

Most of these candidates face uphill campaigns against better-funded and better-known incumbents. But the chance of winning is only part of the motivation.

Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at the City University of New York, says the candidates are part of a trend of people responding to the Sept. 11 attacks by seeking a way to serve their country, re-evaluating their lives and choosing to pursue different careers.

"Usually midlife evaluation starts taking place in the late 30s to late 40s, but Sept. 11 has made midlife reflecters of us all," Renshon said.

For Taff and Ortega, both former fighter pilots, running for Congress was a way to return to service and help safeguard the country against another attack.

"For the first time in my life, I realized that I wasn't a part of the response," said Taff, who had flown his United Airlines jet from Washington to Los Angeles late on Sept. 10 and was to fly to Chicago on the 11th.

"Everyone has a personal story that day, and mine is a little unique, but it explains why I'm running for Congress," he said. "People appreciate it. I think they see my sincerity."

Taff is running in a close race to unseat Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore in a suburb of Kansas City, Kan. He has focused on issues that the attacks brought to the forefront, such as the military, international affairs and homeland security.

After the attacks, Ortega tried to re-enlist but was told that at 33 he was too old. Then, while attending a GOP conference on attracting Hispanics to the party, he decided to challenge veteran Democratic Rep. Martin Frost in a Dallas suburb.

Others have been prompted to run by life-changing events. Indiana Republican Rep. Steve Buyer has said he was inspired to run for office by the Gulf War. And Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., ran in 1996 on the issue of gun control after her husband was killed in the 1993 Long Island railroad shootings.

"Clearly, her candidacy sprang directly from that event," said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. "But whether ... candidates are driven by an event or an experience is hard to discern. Many times, an event may ignite in a person's mind the thought or idea to run, but it might be years before they get around to it."

Kurpiewski, a Democrat running against Rep. Mary Bono in southern California, has been a flight attendant for 33 years and also has lobbied for the Association of Flight Attendants. Her flight from Australia landed at an eerily quiet Los Angeles International Airport late on the morning of Sept. 11.

She says she decided after Congress passed legislation to help the airlines recover that she needed to speak out for the workers. "It was a realization of how fragile life is. If you have a passion for something, if you believe in something, then what are you waiting for?" she said.

— The Associated Press

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