States Face Challenges in Terrorism Preparedness, UMDNJ Researchers Find
New Jersey cited as model for “all hazards” preparedness
PISCATAWAY — Researchers from the UMDNJ-School of Public Health, writing in an article published in the current issue of the American Journal of Public Health, report that as the events of September 2001 fade further into history, public funding is declining for disaster and terrorism preparedness programs. In response, individual states will face challenges to find new ways to maintain systems put in place as an answer to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
“Being unprepared for any public health emergency, including an act of terrorism, is no longer an option,” said Dr. Leah Ziskin, an adjunct associate professor at the UMDNJ-School of Public Health and co-author of the article. “As we continue moving toward an uncertain future, the individual states will need to find ways to efficiently fund programs that are essential to disaster response.”
Dr. Ziskin and co-author, Dr. Drew Harris, an assistant professor at the UMDNJ-School of Public Health and the assistant director of the New Jersey Center for Public Health Preparedness, write that states faced significant preparedness challenges before and following September 11, 2001, and they also point to a number of facts that make New Jersey a good model for the evaluation of terrorism preparedness. Among those facts: New Jersey was at the epicenter of the anthrax outbreak in 2001; its residents accounted for one-quarter of the fatalities at the World Trade Center; New Jersey is centrally located between Washington and New York and it is the country’s most densely populated state.
“Public health officials will tell you that, before September 11, there were deficiencies in their ability to respond, but the events of that day precipitated rapid changes to federal and state policy,” Dr. Harris said. “Still, the individual states have primary authority over public health and safety. Following 9/11, New Jersey began a series of initiatives to create and fund essential oversight activities related to domestic preparedness.”
Among those initiatives are the creation of the New Jersey Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force, upgrading the Office of Emergency Management, the creation of the NJ Center for Public Health Preparedness to conduct training programs for public health professionals and organizational changes in the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services to maximize the department’s ability to communicate rapidly with local emergency management and first responder personnel.
An abstract of this article is available on the American Journal of Public Health website at http://www.ajph.org/cgi/content/abstract/97/9/1589.
The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is the nation's largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health, on five campuses. Last year, there were more than two million patient visits to UMDNJ facilities and faculty at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a mental health and addiction services network.