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Medical News and Perspectives
October 19, 2005

Readiness of Local Public Health Agencies to Respond to Bioterrorism Questioned

JAMA. 2005;294(15):1884-1889. doi:10.1001/jama.294.15.1884

Even as Hurricane Katrina was demonstrating that the US government was not ready for a major disaster, researchers announced findings they said suggested that many public health agencies would not respond quickly to an infectious disease outbreak that might occur from natural causes or bioterrorism.

Researchers affiliated with RAND Corp, a nonprofit research organization based in Santa Monica, Calif, tested how quickly local public health agencies in 18 states responded to a series of telephone calls regarding potential infectious disease outbreaks and found “substantial variability in performance and in the systems in place.” Of the 19 local agencies sampled, eight consistently met the federal guideline of responding to such calls within 30 minutes, and only two of these immediately transferred all callers to an official who could handle urgent case reports. Three of the agencies did not respond to the first five calls they received. The findings were published August 30 online in Health Affairs (

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