Virginia Develops free emergency resources for businesses, but imposes security fees on incoming oceanborne cargo
A new online resource – the Virginia Business Emergency Survival Toolkit (available at www.vaemergency.com/business) – has been developed by a group of emergency organizations in Virginia that includes information and other resources that the state’s businesses can use to help prepare for and recover from natural disasters and other emergencies.
Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who announced the availability of the toolkit earlier this month, recognized the efforts of the developers, including the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Virginia Citizens Corps, the Virginia Department of Business Assistance, and the Virginia Crime Prevention Association.
Among the specific topics covered in the toolkit are various insurance matters, disaster planning, and threat recognition. Companies with emergency plans already in place can use the website to check and update their plans.
Related Notes: (1) At the beginning of this month, the Virginia Port Authority (VPA) began charging a $2 security fee per cargo container on all containers arriving at state-owned port facilities. The state’s decision to impose a fee follows similar decisions by such major ports as Miami and Houston. Federal DHS (Department of Homeland Security) grant money that is used to buy the security equipment needed for the inspection of containers does not cover operational costs or the cost of maintenance after the expiration of manufacturer warranties. The VPA’s board voted unanimously to impose the fee – and fees on other types of cargo as well – in the hope of offsetting some of these new/increased costs of doing business.
(2) The Fairfax County Health Department is seeking to recruit 3,000 more volunteers for its Medical Response Team, which currently has approximately 3,000 volunteers in its Medical Reserve Corps. No medical experience is necessary to join the corps, which is made up of members from the Fairfax County Citizens Corps. Officials said that all volunteers will be trained to respond and assist in the event of an attack or other emergency requiring medical assistance. Citizens of Fairfax County and others interested in the program can obtain more information about it at www.fairfaxmrc.org.
North Carolina Creation of a new bioresearch lab is being considered, while a cutting-edge communications system takes a major step toward completion
Wake Forest University’s School of Medicine in Winston-Salem is making preliminary plans to build a new biological research laboratory. Deputy Associate Dean of Research David Friedman said that there has been considerable discussion between scientists and architects about the location, type, and cost of the new laboratory, which probably would be a level-three facility. The new lab, which would be added to or made part of an existing building on the campus, would be able to deal with the most dangerous diseases that are presently curable.
Friedman expressed hope that the new lab would permit the university “to recruit outside scientists” and expand its capability to research deadly diseases. Last month, Wake Forest also hosted a conference, focused on the anthrax threat that was attended by scientists from across the nation. Wake Forest scientists are currently working on a broad spectrum of programs, funded under a number of federal biodefense grants, which is another reason university officials are interested in the possibility of funding construction of the new lab.
Elsewhere in the state, Vance County has been awarded a DHS (Department of Homeland Security) grant to build a tower that will be a major component of a statewide digital radio network called VIPER (Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders), which allows a number of agencies to communicate with one another despite using different radio systems. The North Carolina Highway Patrol, which is managing the network, will supervise the building both of the new tower and, later, another one, already planned, that will join the first tower, which is now in place on the Vance-Granville county line.
Wisconsin Installs additional biological-agent detection systems
The state’s main U.S. Post Office branch – on Packerland Drive in Green Bay – will soon receive a new electronic biological-agent detection system that will sample articles of mail automatically and alert postal workers if anthrax and/or other biological-weapon agents are detected. The system should be operational by the end of this month. At least three other Wisconsin post offices use the same technology.
Similar equipment, designed and developed by numerous vendors, is operational at post offices and other government and private-sector facilities in cities and states throughout the country. One drawback to the use of many of these detection systems is their high false-alarm rate. The only systems that provide what are considered to be 100 percent accurate results are collection systems in which samples are taken over a specific time period, usually 24 hours, and cultured in a laboratory.
The downside to collection systems is that the exact time that an agent is collected usually cannot be determined because of the long sampling periods involved and the time it takes to culture and test the samples that are collected. Many states currently use both types of systems, which are funded primarily through the federal BioWatch program and various related grants. DHS and private-sector officials generally agree, though, that better systems, with fewer false positives, will be developed and deployed as biodefense technology continues to improve.