American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
February 2007 Clinical Laboratory News: Emergency Preparedness: Another Poor Report

February 2007: Volume 33, Number 2

A majority of state public health labs have made dramatic improvements to their capacities to diagnose and contain the spread of disease in response to catastrophic events like terrorist attacks, pandemics, and natural disasters, but labs charged with providing surge capacity lack necessary supplies.

These findings come from Trust for America’s Health’s (TFAH) fourth annual assessment of public health preparedness in 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report’s lab-related indicators show that 76% of states have adequate bio-safety level 3 labs as outlined in their bioterrorism plans, up from 12% in 2004. But 61% of respondents to a late 2005 survey of state and local labs in CDC’s Laboratory Response Network—those charged with providing surge capacity in emergencies—reported delays in receipt of reagents. For 75% of labs reporting delays, tardiness had no adverse effect on routine testing, but would be problematic in an emergency.

Just 20% of states have capacity to adequately test for chemical threats. These 10 states rely on CDC grants for biomonitoring, and TFAH notes other states are unlikely to get chemical testing capability without more federal investment. Twenty four percent of states, including the District of Columbia, lack a sufficient electronic disease surveillance system that is compatible with CDC’s, according to the report.

The report presents a rather dismal picture of overall national readiness for public health emergencies 5 years after terrorist attacks and anthrax outbreaks in 2001. Half of all states and the District of Columbia scored six points or fewer out of a possible 10 for important indicators of preparedness, including hospital surge capacity and funding. Oklahoma was the only state to earn 10 points, while California, Iowa, Maryland, and New Jersey each earned four.

TFAH calls on the federal government to designate a single senior official accountable for all public health programs, to clearly define a limited number of achievable priorities, release existing public health preparedness data from CDC on a state-by-state basis, and fully fund existing public health emergency programs. Click here for a full copy of the report.