Terrorism defense strengthened
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
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
"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,"
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
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
"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.