- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Faced with the potential of a bioterrorist attack, D.C. officials have strengthened the mayor's authority to order detentions, quarantines and medical examinations.
"It's an update of a law passed in response to the old flu epidemic of 1918," said Peter G. Laporte, director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, yesterday. "Quarantine is a fact of life these days when you think of a bioevent."
The law could be used to order individuals to "hold in place for their own protection to prevent an outbreak from spreading" in the District or surrounding states, Mr. Laporte said.
"This bill makes it a lot easier to evacuate victims and potential victims," said Robert A. Malson, president of the D.C. Hospital Association, which represents the area's private and nonprofit hospitals. The organization is negotiating with the local hotel association to use rooms as treatment facilities if needed.
Although 573,000 people live in the nation's capital, the population on an average weekday is tripled by commuters and tourists.
"It's vitally important that we have the tools we need to protect our citizens and visitors," said Mayor Anthony A. Williams before signing the Omnibus Anti-Terrorism Act of 2002. "The first line of defense is at a local level."
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the D.C. Council worked to draft and pass a series of laws designed to make the D.C. Emergency Response Plan more than a wish list of options officials could pursue.
The measures include exemption from liability for city employees who take actions during a declared emergency, authority for responders from counties in Maryland and Virginia to provide assistance without a federal mandate, and the establishment of local penalties for acts of terrorism that threaten public safety and public health officials.
"There could be people out there who will seek to kill you to keep you from doing your job," said D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat. The council passed legislation making those who harm city employees performing their duties subject to the same penalties they would face for harming a police officer.
Mrs. Patterson also sponsored legislation granting judges the power to issue search warrants over the telephone or through other electronic means.
Another aspect of the bill allows emergency personnel to dispense medications under the supervision of licensed physicians. Service providers from other jurisdictions who responded would also be exempt from liability.
The District and all 50 states have been required to evaluate and update their emergency management plans to submit them for federal review.

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