Senator Jane Nelson
P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 5, 2001
Contact: Dave Nelson
(972) 724-0066

Focus on Bioterrorist Threat Began Before These Attacks

The recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. have caused all of us to feel immense heartbreak and anger. It has also caused us to wonder what other events may be in store, and what action we can take to prevent additional tragedies.

The possibility of a terrorist attack involving biological or chemical agents has been one concern voiced repeatedly in the days since the terrorist attacks. But the issue of bioterrorism has been on the minds of public safety officials for years.

Prior to the 2001 legislative session, the Senate Health Services Committee held public hearings throughout Texas and heard from epidemiologists, doctors, emergency response personnel, hospital officials and others with ideas on how we can best protect Texans from a bioterrorist attack.

After listening to numerous experts, the Committee recommended several measures, including training health care workers to be able to quickly identify symptoms of a biological infection, increase supplies of vaccines and develop a rapid response system involving state and local agencies.

As Chairman of the Committee, I filed Senate Bill 94 requiring every municipality in Texas to formulate a plan detailing how their community would respond to a bioterrorist act and directing them to forward that plan to the Texas Department of Health. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but the House failed to pass it before the end of the legislative session. I will re-introduce this much-needed legislation next session.

Texans can take heart that state and local officials have been vigilant in the days since the attack. TDH immediately activated a core team of bioterrorism response specialists and issued a bulletin to every public health agency, hospital and health care center in Texas -- an alert that arrived even before that of the National Center for Disease Control.

The response team has been on call 24 hours a day since the attack, and local health agencies have been reminded to report suspicious activity, review and update their contact information and their disaster response plans.

As we saw from the quick action of New York firefighters and rescue teams, a quick local response is the key to saving lives. The death toll would have been much more devastating had it not been for the heroic acts of so many public safety officers. That is why it is so important that our local communities develop a bioterrorism response plan.

Many of our state's metropolitan areas began working on bioterrorism initiatives after the highly publicized safin gas attacks on Japan's subway systems. Here in North Texas, the issue received greater attention after a Lewisville man was arrested on charges that he threatened the public with anthrax through the mail. That arrest came about two years after postal workers at a bulk mail center in Coppell discovered a vial labeled: "You have just been contaminated by anthrax."

We pray that we will never have to call a bioterrorism response into action. But Texans should rest easier knowing that leaders with diverse expertise have been looking at this issue long before Sept. 11.

And I for one feel safer knowing that Texas is blessed with the some of the brightest medical minds and most dedicated emergency and public safety teams in the nation.

Senator Nelson led the 2000 interim study of biogenetic research in Texas as Chairman of the Senate Health Services Committee. She represents parts of Tarrant, Denton, Dallas and Ellis counties.

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