The U.S. House on Monday passed a bill that would authorize the use of certain federal grants for improving medical responses to a chemical or biological strike.
"Experts have repeatedly noted that the threat of a WMD attack is real," said Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), the bill sponsor, in released comments. "We must take steps now to ensure the necessary emergency plans, medication and equipment are available to protect the public, including first responders, in the event of an incident."
The Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act modifies the 2002 Homeland Security Act by specifying permission to use Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program funding for improving medical surge capacity and public health procedures, "including the development and maintenance of an initial pharmaceutical stockpile." That is to include "medical kits and diagnostics sufficient to protect first responders, their families, immediate victims, and vulnerable populations from a chemical or biological event," the proposed modification states.
The legislation awaits consideration in the Senate.
A major past source of grants for improving local and state medical readiness to responding to a biological or chemical incident -- the Health and Human Services Department -- in recent years has reduced substantially the amount of funding it hands out, according to a 2012 Aspen Institute report ordered by the Homeland Security Department. The cuts in HHS funding have resulted in the "negation of much of the progress made since 9/11 and degradation of capabilities through the National Disaster Medical System," the Aspen study said.
The Urban Area Security Initiative is aimed at improving the readiness of high-density metropolitan areas to respond to any potential terror attack. The State Homeland Security Program provides assistance to state government efforts in implementing terrorism-response plans and improving readiness levels. The Homeland Security Department's Federal Emergency Management Agency administers both programs.