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Sept. 11 Re-energized DoD Bio-terrorism Protection Efforts

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 3, 2002 – The Sept. 11 terrorist assaults have caused military health officials to step up research and strategies in protecting service members against potential biological attacks.

"I think that 9-11 made us in the health community more aware of the potential of bio-terrorism and its effect on our service members, not only for our deployed forces, but (also) here at home," said Ellen P. Embrey, director of the recently established Deployment Health Support Directorate, in a recent interview.

Warnings of future terrorist attack against America mount, which could include biological or chemical agents. DoD has the experts who understand the nature of biological agents and how they might be "weaponized," and it has the necessary know-how to help mitigate such assaults, Embrey noted.

She added DoD has a number of small, specialized military units whose job it is to deal with biological, chemical and nuclear threats.

With biological agents like anthrax or smallpox posing a broader threat today to U.S. service members and civilians, it's imperative that more people become educated about the nature of the threat, she said.

Embrey said the Sept. 11 attacks provided an impetus for researchers to develop better methods for detecting biological and chemical agents and preventing exposure. Efforts also increased in developing protective gear and self-care procedures for victims awaiting medical aid.

DoD medical experts, Embrey said, are examining methods and strategies in addressing the bio-terrorism threat to deployed service members and to civilians as part of homeland defense efforts.

"Are we there, yet? No, but we're working on it," she added.

Commanders, military police and other installation officials have expressed concern about what they can do and how they interact with their local communities in providing medical care during such attacks, Embrey said.

"It is a focus of ours to ensure that the folks who need that information get good information that's consistent from place to place," she said. "It's important to ensure everyone's on the same sheet of music in terms of delivering the proper care, at the proper time, for the proper agent."

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