Bioterrorism: Preparedness Varied across State and Local Jurisdictions

GAO-03-373 Published: Apr 07, 2003. Publicly Released: Apr 07, 2003.
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Highlights

Much of the response to a bioterrorist attack would occur at the local level. Many local areas and their supporting state agencies, however, may not be adequately prepared to respond to such an attack. In the Public Health Improvement Act that was passed in 2000, Congress directed GAO to examine state and local preparedness for a bioterrorist attack. In this report GAO provides information on state and local preparedness and state and local concerns regarding the federal role in funding and improving preparedness. To gather this information, GAO visited seven cities and their respective state governments, reviewed documents, and interviewed officials. Cities are not identified because of the sensitive nature of this issue.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Health and Human Services To help state and local jurisdictions better prepare for a bioterrorist attack, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, develop specific benchmarks that define adequate preparedness for a bioterrorist attack and can be used by state and local jurisdictions to assess and guide their preparedness efforts.
Closed - Implemented
GAO found that officials from response organizations in seven states reported a lack of guidance from the federal government on what it means to be prepared for bioterrorism. Consistent with one of GAO's recommendations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed interim evidence-based performance goals for public health disaster preparedness and distributed them to state and local public health departments for their current use. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security is incorporating the public health performance goals into a federal effort to standardize state and local public health departments' bioterrorism preparedness exercises and training.
Department of Health and Human Services To help state and local jurisdictions better prepare for a bioterrorist attack, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, develop a mechanism by which solutions to problems that have been used in one jurisdiction can be evaluated by HHS and, if appropriate, shared with other jurisdictions.
Closed - Implemented
GAO found that officials from response organizations in seven states expressed a desire for increased information sharing among state and local jurisdictions of best practices on various types of bioterrorism preparedness activities. Consistent with one of GAO's recommendations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in coordination with the American Medical Association, held its First National Congress on Public Health Readiness in July 2004, with the purpose to provide a forum of discussion, information sharing, resource development, networking, and collaboration with key partners.

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