- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 20, 2001

The Bush administration is giving the Federal Emergency Management Agency $2.5 billion to bolster its ability to prevent and cope with enemy attacks "man-made disasters," a new role for the agency that historically has responded to natural catastrophes.

Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, yesterday declared it necessary to make FEMA "an even bigger and stronger agency" to deal with its new "dual mission" in the 21st century.

FEMA also has been designated as the "central point of contact" during emergencies for governors and other state and local officials. It will gather emergency-response data from all federal, state and local agencies involved in a crisis and forward it to Mr. Ridge.

The White House has given FEMA $2 billion outright, with another "nearly $5 million pending before Congress." The agency has a $937 million operating budget and $1.3 billion in contingency funding.

Mr. Ridge said the administration also "will be providing $550 million through FEMA in grants to state and local communities to help them identify and then strengthen their own needs back home."

More money also has been allotted to the Department of Health and Human Services. It is getting an injection of $296 million that will be granted to state and local jurisdictions for enhancing emergency preparedness.

The department already has appealed to Congress for an additional $1.5 billion, some of which would go to the states and some toward expanding what Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson calls "our national pharmaceutical stockpile."

As he did in his first press conference Thursday, Mr. Ridge took the podium yesterday flanked by senior administration officials whom he called on to make announcements and answer questions. Among them were Mr. Thompson, Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher and FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh.

The officials reported, among other things, that the anthrax samples gathered in Florida, New York and the District contained identical "strains" of the substance, lending weight to the probability that the germs came from the same batch.

Dr. Satcher reiterated that "we [the nation] should be very comfortable that the [health] system has responded very well" in investigating the source of the anthrax contamination and in caring for victims.

He also attempted to explain the cause for "the confusion" in reports about the tests used to determine whether persons have been exposed to anthrax.

For important scientific reasons, the swab test is supersensitive. Thus, it can sometimes indicate that a person has been exposed to anthrax, while later tests yield the opposite result. Only when a series of tests has been performed can investigators be sure that exposure has occurred, he said.

Mr. Allbaugh, who won lavish praise for directing FEMA's timely and cohesive response to the terrorist attack on New York's twin towers, reported that a new Homeland Security Emergency Support Team began operations at noon yesterday.

Mr. Allbaugh said that beginning next week FEMA officials will fan out across the 50 states to inspect and assess each state's ability to respond to terrorist attacks.

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