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A letter attached to a Oct. 3 Disaster Readiness Advisory from the Chicago-based American Hospital Association (AHA) encourages health care providers to address these three questions:
1. Has the local health care infrastructure been convened since Sept. 11? "This should include representatives from your hospital, the local police, fire, and public health departments, and emergency medical services teams," the advisory says. "Unless all of your response plans are coordinated, the whole may be less than the sum of its parts."
2. Are staff properly trained in recognizing symptoms resulting from the most common biological or chemical agents? "This is key, because a terrorist attack utilizing these agents might not be immediately identifiable, but reveal itself only through large numbers of people with the symptoms of exposure to such agents," the advisory says. (To see chemical/biological agent checklist, click here.)
3. Have procedures for sharing information with local or state health departments about unusual cases been reviewed and updated? "Every hospital in America must be ready to share this information with the health department so that it can be passed on to the Centers for Disease Control, which will identify and track the possible use of biological or chemical agents," the AHA says.
The AHA recommends that hospitals do the following:
• maintain disaster plans that, while flexible enough to respond to a wide range of events, are tailored to the specific needs of their communities;
• increase coordination with local agencies such as police, fire, and emergency medical systems;
• expand training of nurses, doctors, and other caregivers in chemical/biological incident response;
• review inventory levels and sources of drugs and other supplies, to ensure that adequate amounts are available if a disaster occurs.