With its experience after the bombing and natural disasters such
as tornadoes, Oklahoma is better prepared to address acts of
bioterrorism than some states, lawmakers were told Monday.
Michael Crutcher, state epidemiologist.
Crutcher and Leslie
Beitsch, state health commissioner, were addressing a joint House
caucus discussing House Bill 2765, by Rep. Bill Paulk, D-OKC, the
"Catastrophic Emergency Health Powers Act," taken from model
legislation written by officials with the Centers for Disease
The bill requires the governor to appoint a Public Health
Emergency Planning Commission to develop a plan for responding to
public health emergencies. It would also expand both the duties and
authority of state agencies to address such outbreaks, including the
power to quarantine certain individuals who may have been exposed to
The Paulk bill carries an overall price tag of $80
Crutcher said that another factor in Oklahoma's favor in
addressing bioterrorism is its centralized public health system,
which aids coordination efforts.
Answering a question from Rep.
Leonard Sullivan, R-OKC, Crutcher said that he would give Oklahoma a
rating of "6 or 7" on a scale of 10 for its emergency preparedness
in this area.
Crutcher said that bioterrorist acts could be
launched against agricultural products or livestock as well as
people, with particularly devastating impact in a state such as
They can take the form of chemical agents, with which
American public health officials have more experience, or infectious
biological agents, such as the recent anthrax scare.
"This is a
whole new ballgame," said Crutcher.
Because they are infectious
rather than chemical, he told a joint House caucus, the former can
take longer to uncover as well as longer to kill or make people
"There is the potential for many casualties," Crutcher
Then there are the hoaxes, he said.
"This is the new
'bomb threat,'" Crutcher said.
Since Sept. 11, he said, the
possible threat from bioterrorism has grown to the point that an
organized response is necessary.
"This truly crosses all
jurisdictions," Crutcher said.
From law enforcement to health
agencies, he said, there is a need for a sensitive surveillance
system, ways to treat possibly thousands of very ill people, a
system for supplying vaccines and antibiotics, isolation and
quarantine where necessary, and how to handle remains.
very critical issues we have to deal with," Crutcher said.
are also legal issues to be addressed, he pointed out, particularly
when it comes to controlling people's movements or quarantining
otherwise well individuals who may have been exposed to a biological