Thursday, October 4, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 31


 
 









 
Terrorism defense strengthened in Houston

By Ken Fountain
Daily Cougar Staff

Houston is as prepared as any city can be to respond to a mass-scale terrorist attack, Mayor Lee P. Brown said in a press conference Wednesday.


Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar


Dr. Ralph Feigin, president of the Baylor College of Medicine, discusses the Houston medical community's preparations for a possible terrorist attack at Rice University Wednesday. With him are Baker Institute Director Edward Djerejian, Houston Mayor Lee P. Brown and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels.


Brown was one of several officials who appeared at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University to discuss the initial findings of a regional task force
about the Houston region's level of preparedness for a major terrorist act.

"I just returned from a week of consultations in Washington," said Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Syria and founding director of the Baker Institute.

"It is evident that in the wake of the terrorist attacks in our country on Sept. 11 that our society and government, at every level -- federal, state, county, municipal -- is seized
with the urgent task of enhancing our individual and collective defense against terrorism," he said.

Djerejian said he and Brown agreed two years ago that the Baker Institute would conduct an independent assessment of the city's response mechanisms in the face of a
mass terrorist attack in the form of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. The assessment focused solely on responses, since counter-terrorism measures are highly
classified, he said.

The Houston Task Force on Terrorism is comprised of officials at the local, county, state and federal agencies, as well as the medical community (including the Houston
Medical Strike Team and the Harris County Hospital District). In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Djerejian said, the task force is stepping up efforts that were already
ongoing.

After a year of research, the task force had found "the city's departments have put significant thought and effort into their emergency plans.

"The city has accomplished a significant amount with the resources that have been available," he said, adding that any shortcomings were due to insufficient funding within
the city budget or from the state and federal governments. These problems were similarly experienced by other major metropolitan areas, he said.

"In Houston, the citizens are better protected than most," he said. This is because of Houston's years of experience in dealing with the threat of a chemical incident or major
explosion in the region's petrochemical industry, as well the ongoing threat of hurricanes, which has resulted in the formation of large-scale evacuation plans.

He said that the task force had already prepared and distributed educational materials that would speed the recognition of chemical and biological agents by medical
personnel. As a result of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Houston Medical Strike Team will be training more frequently to prepare its responses.

Brown said the city government "continues to actively plan and prepare for any possible incident. It has to be an ongoing process.

"A plan is one thing, but implementation becomes another," Brown said.

"If there are any voids (in the region's response capabilities), we'll do what is necessary to fill the voids, whether its in planning, equipment -- all that has to be taken care of,"
he said.

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said the county's Emergency Management Agency has already prepared a terrorist response report that outlines the responsibilities of
county authorities in the event of an attack.

County officials are looking particularly at issues involving rail safety and the threat to chemical plants, as well as the ability of county medical facilities to respond to a
massive emergency, Eckels said.

"We learned some lessons in Tropical Storm Allison about our community's ability to respond in the event of a major impact on our trauma centers," he said.

Dr. Ralph Feigin, president of the Baylor College of Medicine and medical liaison to the Houston Medical Strike Team, outlined the responsibilities of the Houston medical
community.

"Although biological weapons (such as anthrax or botulism) pose a great potential risk, they are in fact somewhat more difficult than chemical agents to deploy," especially
as they have been portrayed by certain media outlets, he said.

He said it was critical that physicians and other health care workers throughout the region be educated on the types of biological threats, the tests required to diagnose them,
and the proper treatments.
 
 
 

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