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Training to fight bioterrorism

December 2001
William Check, PhD

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A major source of training in bioterrorism preparedness is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Laboratory Training Network. NLTN training advisor Jane Willis, PhD, says the program has trained more than 5,000 laboratorians in 95 courses since January 1999. For rural hospitals that can’t send technologists to a course, the NLTN has developed a distance-learning module containing two videotapes that are a complete compilation of presentations from live workshops. (To order, call 504-568-2081.)

All workshops provide a list of FBI offices and public health laboratories from which participants make a contact sheet for their state. "Sometimes there is a real disconnect" between hospital laboratories and public health laboratories, Dr. Willis says. "If the first time you meet your local or state public health partners is in a crisis, then it is too late. You should be strengthening those relationships now."

Dr. Willis encourages laboratories to take the lead in developing their institution’s bioterrorism preparedness plan. "This is a marvelous opportunity for a laboratory to spearhead what goes on in a clinical facility," she says.

One microbiology supervisor, after attending an NLTN course, went back to her lab and wrote a draft of a plan that set in motion a hospital-wide committee that meets with state and local police and the mayor. The committee’s remaining task, says Dr. Willis, is how to handle the parking lot in a crisis. "And it all started with one concerned microbiology supervisor."