Chapter 10: The National Issues
As a result of my participation at Ground Zero and my conference calls with NIOSH and the CDC—as well as the research behind the White Paper I published about using schools as alternative sites for health care—I have been involved in three think tank activities related to bioterrorism, telemedicine, and homeland security.
I have been part of a war games scenario involving smallpox that dealt with command and control issues, which addressed questions such as how to enforce the quarantine of a school where students have been infected. I have discussed the use of a tele-education system in schools that could become a community’s telemedicine infrastructure at one-tenth the cost suggested in current plans. I have spoken with two governors and with White House staffers about these very crucial issues.
A whirlwind of interest has been generated by people in high places. It is painfully obvious that this country—and, on a smaller, but no less important scale, local communities—are ill prepared for most emergencies.
FACT: ALL EMERGENCIES ARE INITIALLY LOCAL PROBLEMS
If the local community is not prepared, people will die. On most local levels, families, companies, and communities need to be equipped, trained and connected, and they must have plans to implement their responses. Baseline screening, available records, medication, and supply depots, cross-trained professionals, a volunteer corps, and regionalized disaster action plans are all necessary in a well-prepared community.
Governmental issues of liability and licensure need to be addressed on the macro level to allow help to flow where necessary without impeding care and expertise from across state lines. Our work in New York was offered at our own risk, given that our malpractice insurance would not cover this sort of effort outside our parent state. The doctors working at the clinic were technically in violation of New York law if they did not have a current New York license. Getting the tests interpreted and returned to the officers continues to encounter interstate legal issues, while the officers remain frightened and wonder what to do next.
The country has dedicated itself to support the New York Fire Department (America’s Bravest) and the New York Police Department (America’s Finest). Cards, letters, and money have rushed in. Newspaper editorials have spoken volumes about those heroes. Unfortunately, other communities around the country did not pause and take a hard look at their own local departments, which also provide 24/7 services such as safety, rescue, power, water, and sanitation.
It takes a brave person to go to work in mailrooms across a country plagued by envelopes laden with lethal anthrax from an unknown source. America needs to wake up and support its local civil servants. These are the neighbors who work weekends and holidays. They run into buildings, attach wires with electricity, search for intruders with guns, and handle packages that may be deadly. Let us send cards, letters, and dollars to those local groups that make America work. Let us be sure they have adequate equipment, health baselines, and accessible records. Let them know you appreciate their help.
While in New York I helped hand out packages of Life Savers candies to officers and National Guardsmen guarding the train station, airport, and Ground Zero. When the policemen and soldiers asked what the gifts were for, the reply was, “That’s what you are, life savers! Thank you!”
I challenge and invite any reader to let me feature his or her tribute to his or her local officers and civil servants in print or on our web site. Let’s start a national movement and show our children that they live with real heroes every bit as brave as those in New York City.
The country needs to act and to learn how to prevent, prepare, and respond to the new threats to our safety and well-being.