HHS activates disaster system

In the wake of what is apparently the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, the Department of Health and Human Services activated the National Disaster Medical System nationwide for the first time.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson ordered medical teams on alert and ready to be sent to any emergency in the wake of today's attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and at the Pentagon, just outside Washington, D.C.

"Today's extraordinary emergencies call for extraordinary response, and I have made the federal disaster response system ready nationwide in order to ensure that we will have the total resources we will need to aid our people in any affected area," Thompson said.

The system is a partnership of four federal agencies—HHS, the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs and the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- to deal with critical health emergencies.

More than 7,000 volunteer medical professionals are organized into 80 disaster assistance teams and deployed during disasters. In recent years, the teams have been deployed to a variety of emergency situations, including the Oklahoma City bombing and the crash of TWA Flight 800.

The agency also coordinates four teams across the country to handle emergencies involving bioterrorism.

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