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Chemical or Biological Terrorist Attacks: An Analysis of the Preparedness of Hospitals for Managing Victims Affected by Chemical or Biological Weapons of Mass Destruction
Department of Health Policy & Management, School of Public Health, College of Public Service, Jackson State University, Jackson Medical Mall, 350 W. Woodrow Wilson Ave., Suite 2301-A, Jackson, Mississippi, USA
Received: 3 October 2005; Accepted: 17 March 2006 / Published: 31 March 2006
Abstract: The possibility of a terrorist attack employing the use of chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on American soil is no longer an empty threat, it has become a reality. A WMD is defined as any weapon with the capacity to inflict death and destruction on such a massive scale that its very presence in the hands of hostile forces is a grievous threat. Events of the past few years including the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and the use of planes as guided missiles directed into the Pentagon and New York’s Twin Towers in 2001 (9/11) and the tragic incidents involving twentythree people who were infected and five who died as a result of contact with anthrax-laced mail in the Fall of 2001, have well established that the United States can be attacked by both domestic and international terrorists without warning or provocation. In light of these actions, hospitals have been working vigorously to ensure that they would be “ready” in the event of another terrorist attack to provide appropriate medical care to victims. However, according to a recent United States General Accounting Office (GAO) nationwide survey, our nation’s hospitals still are not prepared to manage mass causalities resulting from chemical or biological WMD. Therefore, there is a clear need for information about current hospital preparedness in order to provide a foundation for systematic planning and broader discussions about relative cost, probable effectiveness, environmental impact and overall societal priorities. Hence, the aim of this research was to examine the current preparedness of hospitals in the State of Mississippi to manage victims of terrorist attacks involving chemical or biological WMD. All acute care hospitals in the State were selected for inclusion in this study. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were utilized for data collection and analysis. Six hypotheses were tested. Using a questionnaire survey, the availability of functional preparedness plans, specific preparedness education/training, decontamination facilities, surge capacity, pharmaceutical supplies, and laboratory diagnostic capabilities of hospitals were examined. The findings revealed that a majority (89.2%) of hospitals in the State of Mississippi have documented preparedness plans, provided specific preparedness education/training (89.2%), have dedicated facilities for decontamination (75.7%), and pharmaceutical plans and supplies (56.8%) for the treatment of victims in the event of a disaster involving chemical or biological WMD. However, over half (59.5%) of the hospitals could not increase surge capacity (supplies, equipment, staff, patient beds, etc.) and lack appropriate laboratory diagnostic services (91.9%) capable of analyzing and identifying WMD. In general, hospitals in the State of Mississippi, like a number of hospitals throughout the United States, are still not adequately prepared to manage victims of terrorist attacks involving chemical or biological WMD which consequently may result in the loss of hundreds or even thousands of lives. Therefore, hospitals continue to require substantial resources at the local, State, and national levels in order to be “truly” prepared.
Keywords: Hospital; Terrorism; Preparedness; Weapons of Mass Destruction
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Bennett, R.L. Chemical or Biological Terrorist Attacks: An Analysis of the Preparedness of Hospitals for Managing Victims Affected by Chemical or Biological Weapons of Mass Destruction. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2006, 3, 67-75.
Bennett RL. Chemical or Biological Terrorist Attacks: An Analysis of the Preparedness of Hospitals for Managing Victims Affected by Chemical or Biological Weapons of Mass Destruction. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2006; 3(1):67-75.
Bennett, Russell L. 2006. "Chemical or Biological Terrorist Attacks: An Analysis of the Preparedness of Hospitals for Managing Victims Affected by Chemical or Biological Weapons of Mass Destruction." Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 3, no. 1: 67-75.