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New Center to Study Ways of Increasing Emergency Preparedness - 2002-10-02

A new center to study ways of preparing for and responding to terrorist attacks and natural disasters is to be set up at New York University. The U.S. Congress has allocated $7 million for the project.

The Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response will develop case studies and training materials for emergency personnel nationwide.

The studies will focus on how to respond to large-scale emergencies and bioterrorism, and on developing early-warning systems to detect biological, chemical, and radiological attacks.

Congressman Jose Serrano conceived the center shortly after the terrorist attacks last year, when hijacked airliners were flown into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center, causing the two buildings to collapse. He says that while the response of emergency personnel was commendable, there were numerous stumbling blocks that must be avoided in the future.

"Mayor Giuliani didn't even know who to call, not a shortcoming on his part, but a lack of co-ordination, who to call to stop our air space from being used at that moment. It took a controller somewhere in Newark, New Jersey to come up with who to call. With that in mind, we decided that, maybe it was time to have an institution like NYU prepare for us, research, and work on a plan that would help us, in the future, deal with this kind of catastrophe," Mr. Serrano said.

Congressman Serrano worked closely with NYU's senior vice president for health, Robert Berne, who will be the center's principal investigator. Mr. Berne says the center will collaborate with police and fire departments, offices of emergency management, the Department of Health, and even public schools in its co-ordination efforts. He says the center will also draw on international expertise.

"One of our early projects that we anticipate is an international conference, where we bring together expertise from other countries, whether it's Japan or Israel, or whatever, where they have real experience dealing with this," Mr. Berne said.

Mr. Berne says the university has already received a portion of the $7 million in funding and he expects the center to be up and running in a matter of weeks.