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Health board plans response to possible attacks

The Kitsap County Board of Health unanimously has embraced a comprehensive program to prepare for potential chemical or biological attacks.

With the U.S. already on a war footing and the federal Department of Justice issuing warnings about possible retaliatory terrorist attacks on American soil, the health board has placed a high priority on a local preparedness program, complete with staff and budget.

“We recognize there are federal guidelines for a response to a terrorist attack and that Washington state also has a program in place,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, director of the Bremerton-Kitsap County Health District. “But, with that in mind, we’re also concerned about our local preparedness.”

Lindquist, who replaced former health district director Willa Fisher this summer, said the program will include educating local medical personnel about potential threats and coordinating a response to possible terrorist assaults in Kitsap.

“We can put together a few provider updates and gather together professionals from urgent care to inform them about biological agents — which ones are more likely to be used in an attack, how to recognize them, how to diagnose and treat them and how to protect others from infection,” Lindquist said. “Since medical professionals will be the first ones to detect and respond to a bio-attack, this type of training should be part of any preparedness program.”

Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen, who is a member of the health board, agreed.

“None of us want to think that this type of thing would happen in our neighborhood, but you still need to be prepared for it,” said Endresen. “With the quality and importance of our Naval bases here, we have to be prepared.”

Commissioner Tim Botkin pointed out that while bases here provide protection, they also can draw unwanted attention.

“It’s certainly within the realm of the health district to perform this type of function,” he said.

The preparedness program will expand a partnership between the health district and the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management.

While emergency management can offer logistical support, the health district plans to handle most on the training portion of the program.

“We are going to act as a coordinating agency and try to supply the health district officials with the support they need,” said Phyllis Mann, director of Emergency Management.

The program will deal with two types of terrorist tactics.

The first is attack by biological weapons. Personnel at local hospitals and clinics most likely would be the first to respond to a bio-attack. The health district plans to lead the training of those medical personnel.

The second is a chemical agent, which can kill or harm victims by attacking nerves or tissue. Emergency crews such as firefighters most likely would respond first to a chemical event. Both the health district plans and Emergency Management will train these emergency teams.

The program could require additional staff support and work space. Funding is expected to come from a combination of federal, state, county and grant sources.

But with state budget cuts looming because of a sluggish economy, Lindquist worries the program could be put in jeopardy.

“Whether it is a real or threatened event, the system still needs to be in place no matter what,” said Lindquist.

Lindquist pointed out that terrorist Ahmed Ressam, who planned to detonate a bomb at a Los Angeles airport, was arrested in Port Angeles in late 1999. And the Dalles, Ore., was the site of a salmonella bioterrorism incident in the mid-1990s.

Such an attack here “is a real possibility,” Lindquist said.

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