Hospitals lack medical equipment for bioterror

Alliances may be solution to vent shortage

While most urban hospitals across the country reported participating in basic planning and coordination activities for bioterrorism response, they do not have the medical equipment to handle the number of patients that would be likely to result from a bioterrorism incident, according to a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO).1

Hospitals reported they lacked the equipment needed for a large influx of patients. For instance, if a large number of patients with severe respiratory problems associated with anthrax or botulism arrived at a hospital, a comparable number of ventilators would be required to treat them. Yet half of the hospitals reported having fewer than six ventilators per 100 staffed beds.

Almost all hospitals reported participating in a local, state, or regional interagency disaster preparedness committee. In addition, most hospitals reported having provided at least some training to their personnel on identification and diagnosis of disease caused by biological agents considered likely to be used in a bioterrorism attack, such as anthrax or botulism. In contrast, fewer than half of hospitals have conducted drills or exercises simulating response to a bioterrorism incident.

To obtain information on the extent of hospital bioterrorism preparedness, the GAO conducted a survey between May and September 2002, of 2,041 urban hospitals across the country that have emergency departments (EDs). Overall, 1,482 (73%) of the hospitals responded to the survey. In general, larger hospitals reported more planning and training activities than smaller hospitals. The resources that hospitals and their EDs would require for responding to a large-scale bioterrorism attack are far greater than those needed for everyday use. The specific equipment, supplies, and facilities needed could vary depending upon what type of attack occurred, but many scenarios anticipate the demand for health care could quickly outstrip the ability of hospitals to respond.

Regional plans can help address capacity deficiencies by providing for the sharing among hospitals and other community and state agencies and organizations of resources that, while adequate for everyday needs, may be in short supply on a local level in an emergency. Many of the capabilities required for responding to a large-scale bioterrorism attack are required for responses to naturally occurring disease outbreaks. Such a dual-use response infrastructure improves the capacity of local public health agencies to respond to all hazards, the GAO reported.


  1. General Accounting Office. Most Urban Hospitals Have Emergency Plans but Lack Certain Capacities for Bioterrorism Response. Web: