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URMC Creates New Center to Combat Terrorism Threats

Center for Disaster Medicine and Emergency Preparedness Helps Finger Lakes Region Prepare for Possible Terrorist Attacks

Friday, May 07, 2004

Emergency departments, private physician’s offices, and even labs are now actively engaged in combating bioterrorist threats, and medical professionals are being called on to figure out how to best treat and contain such events.

In response to the new reality of terrorist threats, the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) has established a Center for Disaster Medicine and Emergency Preparedness (CDMEP). The new Center will marshal the Medical Center’s rich resources and expertise to contribute to the region’s and nation’s counterterrorism efforts.

According to C. McCollister Evarts, M.D., CEO of URMC, academic medical centers throughout the nation are playing a critical role in our nation’s efforts to ensure adequate defense against terrorist activities.

“In any given region, academic medical centers are the repository of very specific knowledge and skills. Experts in such areas as rare disease identification, vaccine development and radiation are readily available, along with the facilities, equipment and health care professionals to handle mass casualty disasters,” Evarts said. “We are honored to be among the handful of academic medical centers leading the charge to ensure our nation develops preparation and response plans for terrorist events.”

URMC has national expertise in several areas critical to homeland security including radiation biology, development of biosensors, disaster mental health, design of new vaccines, and clinical decision support systems. 

Emergency medicine physician Janet Williams, M.D., was recruited from West Virginia University to direct the new Center.  At West Virginia, Williams led several programs and research projects aimed at helping hospitals respond to the threats posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. 

“The challenge of terrorism has required a transformation in healthcare. Prior to September 11, the types of disasters that could occur were pretty well defined and the roles served by the medical community were either as first responders or as providers of patient care,” Williams noted. “That has all changed—disasters can happen covertly, and are not confined to a specific geographic area. Emergency departments, private physician’s offices, and even labs are now actively engaged in combating bioterrorist threats, and medical professionals are being called on to figure out how to best treat and contain such events.

“The Center for Disaster Medicine and Emergency Preparedness takes all of the core competencies needed to respond to a disaster—everything from identification of bioterrorism agents to radiation treatment specialists to mental health experts—and focuses the efforts of response teams before a disaster occurs to ensure all are ready to provide a coordinated response if and when a terrorist event hits our region.”

Main Areas of Focus

The Center’s work will focus on potential terrorist activities as they relate to the three traditional missions of academic medical centers--research, education, and patient care.  Three core programs are currently underway:

  • Hospital Emergency Preparedness: The Center serves as the coordinator of hospital planning for the 18 hospitals in the nine-county Finger Lakes region.  By looking at the preparation needs of entire region, the Center can accurately determine the region’s existing resources and identify gaps.  For example, the Center is actively researching ways to enhance the region’s health care system’s “surge capacity.” This involves working with the region’s hospitals to develop models and procedures for implementing a mass medical response including identification of large number of hospital beds, healthcare providers and medical supplies needed to care for thousands of victims.

The Center also is conducting research to determine the availability and/or willingness of healthcare workers to report to work after a terrorist attack.  By determining barriers beforehand and devising solutions, the Center hopes to help healthcare facilities maintain a solid workforce during a disaster situation. 

  •  Disaster Mental Health: Disasters of all types present significant mental health challenges for victims as well as disaster responders.  The events of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath provided key lessons for community leaders on the far reaching and long lasting impact such events can produce.  The Center is currently developing guidelines and a training program to assist New York state counties in recruiting, training, and deploying of mental health professionals during times of disaster.
  •  Health Effects Following Radiological Disasters:  The threat of “dirty bombs” is well known.  Utilizing URMC faculty experts in this area, the Center will research and establish best practices on how to handle large numbers of people exposed to radiation including medical countermeasures, new ways to more quickly detect the degree of radiation injury, and establishing protocols for long-term treatment of those exposed to radiation.

During the next year, the Center also will sponsor a series of symposia covering such topics as biosensors/detection of terrorist agents, new therapies and countermeasures, hospital preparedness, and community preparedness for terrorism (see attached for information on the first symposium, Combating Terrorism: New Technologies for the Detection of Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Agents, to be heldJune 3). In addition, the Center plans to work closely with other academic health centers in Upstate New York including Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany to share best practices and models in research, education, and outreach programs.

To date, the majority of the Center’s funding comes through a special Federal grant that New York State Department of Health has funneled to the Center.  The Center expects to receive approximately $2 million over four years.  In addition, the Center plans to obtain additional grants to fund its research efforts. 

For more information on the new Center for Disaster Medicine and Emergency Preparedness, call (585) 275-6618.

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Media Contact

Germaine Reinhardt

(585) 275-6517

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