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Stanford Report, September 11, 2002

'Mid-level' campus emergencies spawn creation of STAT team

The anthrax scare on campus last October pushed the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) to deal with a new type of crisis -- a bioterrorism attack. "That was very new for all responsible agencies," says Larry Gibbs, associate vice provost for environmental health and safety.

While the scares turned out to be hoaxes, they prompted the university to improve coordination of its response to "mid-level" emergencies -- a bomb or bioterrorism threat, a large building fire or a flood similar to the one that drenched campus in 1998. The result was creation of the Situation Triage and Assessment Team (STAT), which sets up automatic communication between EH&S and key departments such as Public Safety and Facilities Operations. "That's been a benefit for the university," Gibbs says. Other changes include better identification of EH&S employees, who now wear ID tags. The department also has advised people in laboratories containing radioactive materials to review their security arrangements and to be aware of strangers entering their work area, Gibbs says.

Since 1996, under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Stanford has tracked the use and movement of certain select agents on campus that theoretically could be used to make a biological weapon. "Overall, Stanford is not engaged in a lot of research in this area," Gibbs says. "We're more involved in development of rapid diagnostic tests and vaccines" to detect and thwart such weapons. Following last year's terrorist attacks, the act was updated by the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, which greatly expanded the number of biological agents and toxins listed in the Federal Register. While Stanford always has complied with reporting select agents, the university is requesting that the Centers for Disease Control change the revised list, which it regards as flawed. "So much is being driven by political concerns -- it's not based on good science," Gibbs says.

--Lisa Trei

Larry Gibbs

Larry Gibbs