JACKSON -- The newest component of the disaster preparedness/response network for the Southeast Missouri Region, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Team, was formally introduced at a meeting at the City of Jackson Fire Rescue Station.
"The purpose of the meeting was to first introduce the team, and then network, exchange information and discuss procedures regarding a unified response to the heightened fears of possible terrorist activities," said Brad Golden, fire chief of the Jackson Rescue and one of the coordinators of the WMD team.
Those present at the meeting included fire and law enforcement representatives from Jackson, Sikeston and Cape Girardeau along with personnel from the St. Francis Medical Center, Southeast Missouri Hospital, Cape Girardeau Health Department, Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department, FBI, state and local emergency management agencies and Southeast Missouri State University.
"Fortunately, the number of terrorist or anthrax-related incidents reported across the country is not occurring in our region," said Drew Juden, director of Sikeston DPS and co-coordinator of the WMD team. "However, we want to be proactive, act as an advisory group to local response efforts and assure everyone that the WMD team will be prepared if called upon.
"Local law enforcement has handled and will continue to handle any initial calls for assistance, but we felt a need to discuss the recommended procedures with all response agencies."
The FBI confirmed that the number of incidents in Southeast Missouri has been minimal. The nearest area of activity is in and around St. Louis.
Hospital and health department representatives reviewed the current information sheets available on possible biological and chemical threats at the Wednesday meeting.
"The public needs to understand the nature of these agents, such as anthrax, and become informed," said Marcie Abernathy, emergency room director for St. Francis Medical Center.
"According to medical literature, anthrax is not contagious and difficult to aerosolize as it must be to infect an individual," said Charlotte Craig, director of Cape Girardeau Public Health. "It is treated successfully if antibiotics are started immediately after known exposure. Local health departments in the state of Missouri are in the process of expanding and enhancing a weekly disease surveillance system to include more sites surveyed.
Craig said the surveying has been successful for many years and is effective in catching disease outbreaks, which will provide the medical community with early warning of anything unusual occurring.
Local officials continue to stress that the general public should stay calm and not panic.
"The key is to be cautious and report any unusual activities to law enforcement who have procedures to follow up on the report," Golden said.