HHS relies on low-tech

CDC's BioTerrorism Preparedness and Response

The Department of Health and Human Services coordinated sending an army of medical volunteers to the scenes of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history the "old-fashioned way"—by phone and fax.

Within hours of Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson ordered medical and mortuary teams rushed to the sites of the devastation.

HHS' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, also helped ship tons of emergency medical supplies to New York City, including 84,000 bags of intravenous fluid, pharmaceuticals, bandages and emergency medication.

CDC also released a cache of pre-packaged pharmaceuticals and medical supplies stored near New York City as part of the agency's BioTerrorism Preparedness and Response Initiative. Known as "push packages," these supplies are intended to be used in responding to an emergency involving mass casualties.

But most of the work to activate the teams and distribute supplies was carried out via telephone and fax machine, according to HHS, which is coordinating the medical response to the attacks.

Computers came into play at a special command center in Maryland, where HHS representatives and military personnel logged into computers to monitor the location of the teams at disaster sites.

"We are tracking them by computer," said HHS spokesman Craig Stevens.

Additionally, several hospitals across the country reported they had received e-mail messages from CDC representatives asking them to watch for unusual patterns of illnesses as part of the agency's bioterrorism preparedness plan. And although HHS had planned to create a Web-based system to track blood supplies nationwide, it was not operational on Sept.11.

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