Economic crisis may hit disaster readiness: experts

Tue Dec 9, 2008 1:15pm EST
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is still underprepared for a major disaster such as a biological attack or a pandemic and the current economic crisis could make things worse, health experts said on Tuesday.

Federal funding for state and local preparedness has been cut more than 25 percent compared to 2005 budgets, while at the same time state and local officials are being asked to do more, the report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found.

"The economic crisis could result in a serious rollback of the progress we've made since September 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina to better prepare the nation for emergencies," said Jeff Levi, executive director of the non-profit Trust.

"The 25 percent cut in federal support to protect Americans from diseases, disasters, and bioterrorism is already hurting state response capabilities," he added.

"States will be hard-pressed to take on these new and expanded roles and responsibilities."

Levi's group reports every year on the readiness to deal with disasters, attacks and pandemics and noted that the September 11 attacks and the 2005 hurricane season created momentary interest in better preparation.

But the administration of President George W. Bush has also stressed responsibility on the part of state and local governments and has said repeatedly that the federal government will not bail out states after disasters.

The report found that hospitals still lack so-called surge capacity -- the ability to quickly expand space and staff to deal with an influx of ill or injured patients.   Continued...