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US Congressional Leader Uses Doctor's Training to Help Americans Ease Terror Attack Fears - 2003-02-15

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the chamber's only medical doctor, sought Friday to ease a nation nervous about potential terrorist attacks. He offered suggestions on how Americans can keep fear from paralyzing their lives.

Mr. Frist urged Americans not to allow news reports of potential terrorism threats, especially reports on the 24-hour cable news stations, to overwhelm them.

He spoke on the Senate floor in calm, reassuring tones. "I think we all know that these visual images are put on television to capture emotion, to capture attention. We know this does capture our emotion, our attention because we all have this inner fear that we do not want that little virus to hit us. I guess all I am saying is that we have to be careful as we look at television, as we look at the media today, not to let us feed that panic and paralysis," he said.

Senator Frist, who has played a leading role in legislation to fight the threat of biological terrorism, urged Americans to be vigilant, but also to keep the terror threat in perspective. "The overall risk of biological agents and chemical agents being used successfully as agents of mass destruction in this country is small. But the threat is real, and our response needs to be proportional to that overall small risk," he said.

Senator Frist says the threat from an attack with nuclear weapons is even smaller than that from biological or chemical weapons.

The Senate Majority Leader made his comments as Americans scramble to buy plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal their windows in the event of an attack, as recommended by the Homeland Security Department. But Mr. Frist suggests those measures may be extraordinary. The better course, he says, is for Americans to become fully informed about the nature of the potential threats.

"Talk it over at the dinner table, ask questions. If you ask questions of somebody who does not know, ask somebody else. The sharing of information brings down the stress, brings down the potential for pain and paralysis, and with that, we will get through this in a comfortable way, and everything will be okay," he said.

Members of Congress received briefings this week on evacuation preparations in case of a terrorist attack. They were told by authorities to have sensitive documents, medicine, and a list of important phone numbers handy in the event of an evacuation.

The federal government last week increased the nation's terror threat level to orange, indicating a high risk of terrorist attack.