National official touts UNMC's bioterrorism expertise, capabilities

by Bill O'Neill, UNMC public affairs | August 01, 2003

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Andrew A. Sorensen, Ph.D., left, and UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D.
Andrew A. Sorensen, Ph.D., a member of the U.S. Council on Public Health Preparedness, learned Thursday how UNMC and other Nebraska entities can contribute to the nation's bioterrorism preparedness efforts.

"Having Dr. Sorensen on campus really gave us an opportunity to showcase all of our unique expertise and capabilities," UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D., said. "He gained a perspective of our expertise on bioterorrism preparedness, and how energized we are to serve the nation in this area."

Dr. Sorensen: I'm impressed

Dr. Sorensen noted Nebraska's plan for its integration across state, county and university entities. "I'm impressed with how everyone is working together, in what appears to be a very harmonious fashion," he said.

Dr. Sorensen said the Council on Public Health Preparedness, along with the 140-member Association of American Medical Colleges, is working to propose a model to the federal government about how academic health centers can best work with state and county health departments to prepare for a bioterrorism event.

"Of all of the ones I know about, this is the one that's furthest along in terms of integration," Dr. Sorensen said. "It's very impressive."

Additional stops

In addition to his visit to UNMC, Dr. Sorensen visited LAB-InterLink and the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Peter Kiewit Institute (PKI). LAB-InterLink is a UNMC technology transfer company that designs and manufactures automated laboratory technology. In the event of a bioterrorism event, such as the release of the smallpox virus, the automated laboratory technology could be put on a truck, a ship or plane and within hours be at the site of incident.

Numerous advantages

Officials have touted UNMC as a potential home for a National Emergency Preparedness Laboratory Center, which would augment the work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. In addition to the scientific expertise of the faculty at UNMC and PKI and the capabilities of LAB-Interlink, Omaha has numerous other advantages, including: its location at the center of the country, away from coastal terrorism threats and a less likely location for international terrorism; it is at the bisection point of major transportation lines, both railroad and road vehicle; StratCom is easily accessible; and it has needed redundancy in fiber-optic networks and other means of communication.

Spotlighting Dr. Sorensen's career

Dr. Sorensen is president of the University of South Carolina. The 21-member Council on Public Health Preparedness advises Tommy Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, on appropriate actions to prepare for and respond to public health emergencies, including acts of bioterrorism. D.A. Henderson, M.D., serves as chairman of the Council on Public Health Preparedness.

UNMC has hosted distinguished group

Dr. Sorensen and Dr. Henderson are among many national officials who have visited UNMC to learn more about its bioterrorism preparedness expertise. That group also includes Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and James Plehal, the deputy director of the Information Analysis & Infrastructure Protection (IAIP), which is one of five divisions of the Department of Homeland Security.