Emergency Readiness? Not So Much

Good thing we'll never have another hurricane again, huh? Just one more bright spot in the Bush legacy: WASHINGTON — The economic crisis is jeopa

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Good thing we'll never have another hurricane again, huh? Just one more bright spot in the Bush legacy:

WASHINGTON — The economic crisis is jeopardizing the nation's ability to handle public-health emergencies and possible bioterrorist attacks, according to government leaders and a new report.

Federal and state governments are cutting programs that help communities respond to disease outbreaks, natural disasters and bioterrorism incidents, and that "could lead to a disaster for the nation's disaster preparedness," a report released Tuesday warns.

"The economic crisis could result in a serious rollback of the progress we've made since Sept. 11," 2001, said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, a non-partisan research group. Federal funds are down, 11 states have already cut public-health budgets, and more could follow as the economic crisis worsens.

If emergency medical supplies are not maintained or if hospitals can't handle a huge influx of patients, the result will be more deaths and illnesses, Levi said.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff underscored the concerns in an interview Tuesday with USA TODAY editors and reporters. His top concern, Chertoff said, is a "mass event: a big outbreak of plague or some other kind of biological weapon or a nuclear explosion."

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