Rural counties asked for emergency info for Web database, a
potential nationwide model
By JASON STRAZIUSO
Associated Press Writer
In preparation for a possible terrorist attack, officials hope
to catalog emergency resources - from decontamination tents to body
bags - from eight rural Pennsylvania counties in an Internet
database that could serve as a national model.
Officials hope to collect a range of information they say will
be far more detailed than existing databases. This week, 1,000
letters were sent out asking for information from hospitals, police
and fire departments, nursing homes - even animal hospitals and
funeral homes.
"Why funeral homes? Because it's something they (emergency
officials) know nothing about," said Andrea Hassol of consulting
firm Abt Associates, which is heading up the project with Geisinger
Health System. "They might need to know about cremation
capabilities, for example. You might need to know that in a
disaster."
The agencies are being asked to submit their information into an
Internet database accessible by emergency officials. The project
involves Columbia, Luzerne, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland,
Schuylkill, Snyder and Union counties.
Hassol said the database will allow officials to see what
resources are available during emergencies and for equipment
purchase decisions.
"It's hard to plan and to deploy your resources when you don't
know what your resources are," Hassol said. "It's hard to make an
argument that you need more of something if you don't know what you
have."
If the project succeeds, it could be expanded statewide.
The state Department of Health, which is consulting on the
project, is looking into the feasibility of taking over the
database once the 15-month, $500,000 grant from the federal
Department of Health and Human Services expires, said Health
Department spokeswoman Jessica Seiders.
Karen Migdail, a spokeswoman for the Agency for Healthcare
Research and Quality, a division of HHS, said the Pennsylvania
model could be used across the country.
"Our goal in funding research ... is that it eventually be
translated into use by the health-care system," Migdail said. "If
it works and is successful and it does what they want to do, we
will work ... to make it widely available."
Williamsport Fire Department Deputy Chief Irv Gleason said he
thinks the survey is well-intentioned, although he wondered if it
wasn't duplicating information already gathered by regional
terrorism task forces.
Dr. Anthony Turel, who is directing the project for Geisinger, a
prominent health care provider in the state, said the project is
unique because it will be Web-accessible and because it is
collecting such detailed information.
Gleason, who said his department would likely participate, said
emergency responders benefit from having a large database of
emergency resources.
"Look at the mutual aid Pennsylvania gave to New York City
during that (Sept. 11, 2001) disaster," Gleason said. "They had
to know how many search-and-rescue task forces we could supply to
them - so yes, there's a need to know what's in Ohio, West
Virginia, Maryland, places like that."
The database, which officials hope agencies will update
quarterly, will detail 250 resources - from antibiotics to
airplanes - that could be used during emergencies.
The Web site will be well-protected, officials said, because a
terrorist could find the information valuable and because nursing
homes, for example, are being asked to submit proprietary
information.
Hassol said the project is at least in part a result of the 2001
terrorist attacks because funding for such projects wasn't readily
available before the attacks.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)