Stanford sets the standard for bioterrorism planning

A separate piece: Stand-alone plan advised

Bioterrorism Watch

It’s not enough merely to update the bioterrorism component of your current disaster preparedness plan, experts say; you must create a detailed bioterrorism response plan that stands on its own. That’s precisely the philosophy behind the Stanford (CA) Hospital and Clinics (SHC) & Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH) Bioterrorism Response Preparedness Plan, which is gaining widespread recognition as a model for such plans. In fact, several Kaiser Permanente facilities in California already have adopted the plan.

"You need a separate [bioterrorism] plan," asserts Eric A. Weiss, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Stanford, associate director of trauma at Stanford Hospital, and chairman of the disaster committee and bioterrorism task force. "During most disasters, for instance, you don’t rely on the microbiology lab to identify pathogens. Also, infectious disease and infection control staff take on a major, heightened role."

In disasters such as an earthquake, Weiss notes, you generally don’t have to worry about the quarantine of patients or the spread of infectious agents. Similarly, you may not have to put on protective clothing or worry about cross-contamination of existing patients who may be immunosuppressed.

A bioterrorism plan had been in place prior to 2001, Weiss says, "but it was really just a skeleton plan — not very comprehensive. It was part of a larger disaster preparedness plan, but a plan to deal with mass casualties from bioterrorism is very different."

When you have a major disaster such as the collapse of the World Trade Center, Weiss notes, local health care providers are likely to come to the hospital and offer to chip in and help wherever they can.

"But what happens when the word goes out that patients are walking around with smallpox?" he asks. "Are providers going to want to stream down to the hospital and potentially infect themselves and their families? You need a response plan to address the safety of health care providers, so they will feel comfortable and want to show up for work."

To create such a plan, the Bioterrorism Planning Task Force was formed, incorporating personnel from 30 or more different departments at both facilities. Those departments include infectious diseases, infection control, emergency medicine, pediatrics, critical care, intensive care units, nursing and hospital administration, dermatology, psychology, social services, and environmental health and safety.

"We began putting the plan together when we identified the fact that the current plan was not adequate," notes Weiss. "We accelerated our activities after Sept. 11. After Sept. 11, everybody wanted to be part of it."

[Editor’s note: The bioterrorism plan is available on the Stanford web site at]