Virginia Department of Health officials are coming to Loudoun next week to help the county's sheriff's deputies, police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers recognize potential bioterrorism attacks and respond quickly and effectively.
During the two-day training, which is scheduled for Wednesday and next Thursday, the traditional frontline emergency responders will learn to identify the symptoms of smallpox, botulism, plague and other potential threats, said Benita Boyer, Loudoun's epidemiologist, who is assisting in the training. Boyer said the training also involves case studies of real attacks involving anthrax and salmonella.
"There needs to be an awareness of these things," Boyer said, adding that police and other emergency workers often may be among the first people to witness signs of a possible attack. Quick action in contacting health officials, she said, could help contain that attack.
The seminar, which also is open to hospital workers, is only one example of many ways that law enforcement and fire and rescue officials are responding to the threat of terrorism. Loudoun sheriff's spokesman Kraig Troxell noted that since Sept. 11, 2001, patrol deputies have been paying extra attention to areas that are considered potential targets and that the Washington area's first responders have been communicating closely about preparations for a regionwide response to an attack.
Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for the state health department's emergency preparedness and response program, said one goal of the session is to ensure that health officials and law enforcement officials understand each other's roles in case of an attack. She said that similar sessions are being conducted across the state and that a seminar was held in Arlington in February.
"This is something that has been started to educate each discipline on what the other does," Caldwell said. "Now public health is considered a first responder like they haven't been in the past."
Beth Miller-Zuber, a regional trainer for the state health department, said that the participants next week will study actual cases of terrorism and that an FBI agent probably will attend to assist in the training.
"It's giving everybody a basic foundation of knowledge," Miller-Zuber said.
The group will examine a 1984 case from Oregon in which members of a religious sect sprinkled salmonella bacteria on salad bars, sickening nearly 800, officials said. They also will review the response to the 2001 anthrax attack in Florida.
Boyer said the group would use lessons learned from those cases to help plan responses. "What if it happened here?" she said. "Who would be the first to know? Who would they contact?"
The training also helps health officials understand the details of criminal investigations, such as chain of custody requirements, that would come into play should there be an attack, Boyer said.
Leesburg Police Lt. Brian Rourke said about six members of his department are expected to attend. "As first responders, we need to keep our eyes open for those clues and indicators," he said.