In the months following the October 2001 anthrax scares in Florida, emergency responders faced what Matthew Rollie calls a “black hole.”
Responders were required to transport white powder samples across the state, but workers weren’t fully prepared for the situation said Rollie, contracts manager for the USF Center for Biological Defense.
Now the center is taking a step further with a $323,600 contract to expand training projects for first responders, such as firefighters, police and EMS, on how to respond to similar situations.
“After the anthrax attacks, the state was inundated with samples of white powder,” Rollie said. “(Some) really did not need to be brought into the lab. It was no one’s fault, they just have never dealt with something of this magnitude.”
Rollie, co-principal investigator for the contract, said the money was awarded to the center out of the $6 million that was earmarked by the Florida Department of Health for statewide bioterrorism education.
“The contract is building upon an existing project,” Rollie said. “Trainers work with responders on how to collect and transport samples to give them an idea of what goes on in the labs. In the past, the lab has been a black hole.”
Rollie said responders will now be included in receiving information about the research samples they transport.
Rollie said the lab directors will notify them whether the sample tests positive for anthrax.
Rollie said the Center for Biological Defense is aiming to double the number of responders in Florida who are capable of handling anthrax or other biological threats with a goal of at least 2,000.
Rollie wrote the proposal for the contract in September 2002 that the FDOH awarded USF this month.
“The money is going to be sufficient to provide training, but we don’t have to go back and reinvent everything,” Rollie said.
Darcy Ravndal, education coordinator for the Center for Biological Defense, said the center will work with law enforcement and the FBI to demonstrate how to properly handle a white powder sample and transport it to one of three labs in the state.
“A lot of times, (responders) worry about their safety,” Ravndal said. ” We want to give them the background knowledge so it’s not a big mystery.”
Ravndal said responders will be able to call the lab director to find the results of the samples they transport so they can be treated if any were tested positive.
“From talking to them, they’re confident, but they do want to feel more comfortable,” Ravndal said.