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DoD, TRICARE Play Big Roles in Homeland Security Planning

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2002 – TRICARE personnel and assets are playing a big part in DoD's preparedness plans in support of other federal, state and local emergency medical response teams in dealing with possible terrorist acts committed on American soil, a senior DoD official said here Feb. 6.

Ellen P. Embrey, DoD's new deputy assistant secretary of defense for force health protection and readiness, outlined the president's homeland security goals and plans and steps participants of the annual TRICARE conference here can take to support them. She advises the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs on all DoD medical readiness and deployment medicine policies and activities, and national medical disaster support.

"As the direct provider of beneficiary care and a respected military health professional in your local community, you will be asked to participate in local, city, county or statewide disaster and terrorism emergency management contingency planning and exercise activities," she said.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, coordinates and implements national homeland security strategy, Embrey noted.

In his fiscal 2003 budget request, she said, President Bush called for $38 billion to support homeland security efforts contained in four key objectives: support first responders first; defend against bio-terrorism; secure America's borders; and use 21st century technology to secure the homeland.

Embrey told conference attendees the first two objectives are relevant to them and DoD. First responders -- local police, firefighters and civilian and military emergency medical professionals -- "have the greatest potential to save lives and limit casualties after a terrorist attack," she explained.

On the second objective, current homeland security plans recognize that bio-terrorism defense will require the nation to invest significantly in its healthcare system, "of which you are a critical part," Embrey told attendees.

Almost $2 billion is being proposed to bolster state and local public healthcare systems, Embrey said, to manage both contagious and noncontagious diseases, to expand healthcare surge capacities, to upgrade public health laboratory capabilities, and to provide training for medical personnel.

Funds are also provided, she added, to support mutual regional medical aid agreements and communications networks linking acute care assets, including military, with local communities' public health organizations.

Embrey said the military stands ready to assist. Its emergency response capabilities include the Army's Chemical/Biological Rapid Response Team, Technical Escort Units, the Marine Corps' Chemical/Biological Ready Response Force, and the National Guard's Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support teams.

The president and Congress, she said, have also taken steps to create national supplies of smallpox vaccine and an antibiotics stockpile to treat potential anthrax victims.

"Our success or our failure as a nation to respond to bio- terrorism will depend in large measure on the quality and effectiveness of our diagnostic tests, vaccines and therapeutic drugs," Embrey noted.

She said military commanders depend on TRICARE healthcare professionals' plans and preparations for possible bio- terrorism attacks -- and "don't underestimate their need to rely on you," she told conferees.

"The chemical and biological agent awareness training, personal protective equipment stocks, medical supplies needed to support chemical/biological wartime support operations are (what) your installation commander wants you to have ready in case of a potential attack," she added. Embrey said TRICARE personnel also could be called to help in local relief efforts.

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