Maryland Strives for Better Emergency Readiness

Maryland state emergency officials believe they are better prepared for a high-casualty event than other states, but acknowledge that a major WMD attack could quickly overwhelm their medical facilities, the Baltimore Sun reported yesterday (see GSN, June 27).

"A mass-casualty, major incident is a scary deal.  But in terms of our ability to handle it, I feel comfortable.  We're probably as prepared as any state, and I would argue better than a whole lot of others," said Robert Bass, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services (see GSN, Sept. 28, 2006).

Other health officials agreed.

"Maryland has long been regarded as probably the exemplar in the country for understanding, valuing and organizing emergency medical services ... and, very significantly, the state has not backed off from that commitment," said Arthur Kellerman, associate dean for health policy at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Still, Bass said he has been working to improve some weaknesses in the system and he expressed concern that a major event, such as terrorists using nuclear or biological weapons, could require more response resources than the state possesses.

"What do you do when profoundly more people need health care than we can provide? ... We've never had to face that," he said.

One specific concern he has is a shortage of hospitals with enough negative-pressure isolation rooms, used to contain the spread of infectious disease agents, the Sun reported.

"Candidly, that is one of our Achilles heels," Bass said.

"Emergency planning is a never-ending loop," he added. "There's always a bigger 'what if.'  I think we do well" (Frank Roylance, Baltimore Sun, July 13).

July 14, 2008
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Maryland state emergency officials believe they are better prepared for a high-casualty event than other states, but acknowledge that a major WMD attack could quickly overwhelm their medical facilities, the Baltimore Sun reported yesterday (see GSN, June 27).