Md.’s Johns Hopkins Leads Effort on Disaster, Terror Response

December 8, 2005

How governments can best prevent, prepare and respond to mass casualties, whether from natural events such as Hurricane Katrina or a terror attack, is the mission of a new center led by Johns Hopkins University.

A $15 million, three-year grant will establish The Center for the Study of High Consequence Event Preparedness and Response, one of a number of Homeland Security Centers of Excellence nationwide, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Monday.

Noting resources are limited, Chertoff said work done at the center will help provide “reasonable and robust” security through decisions that are based “not simply upon anecdote or emotion or what happen to be the passing topic in the news, but based on upon sustained and thoughtful consideration of what the risks really are.”

The use of models and simulations to help in risk management and decision-making will be a focus of the center’s 90 investigators, who are spread over eight states and the District of Columbia, center officials said.

The center will be headed by the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response, which was created shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. CEPAR Chairman, Dr. Gabor Kelen, said researchers will work to “provide real evidence. Does this work, or does this work?”

That will provide the ability to “make rational decisions with limited resources,” Kelen said.

Chertoff pointed to recent changes in airline security measures as an example of the need to constantly adapt to an ever-changing security environment.

“I don’t mean to suggest that these decisions are ever easy. What I do mean to suggest is that a philosophy of decision-making based on risk management is one that requires a kind of tough-minded, disciplined and empirically supported view of what the facts in the real world are,” Chertoff told researchers crowded into an auditorium to hear the announcement.

On Friday, the Transportation Security Administration announced that airline passengers soon will be allowed to carry small scissors and some sharp tools onto planes. However, screeners will conduct more thorough pat-downs and other extra security checks. The changes are aimed at finding explosives, which the agency considers a greater threat.

Scissors, small knives and other sharp objects were prohibited after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in which airliners were hijacked by terrorists wielding box-cutters.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who was on hand for the announcement, said it was important to fund such research so “we are ready, really ready” and the “best minds are working on how we can be prepared for the worst.”

The new center joins centers already headed by the University of Maryland, Texas A&M, the University of Southern California, the University of Minnesota and Michigan State University. The University of Maryland heads the Center for Behavioral and Social Research on Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism.

The other centers study issues including food security, economic impact, animal-based diseases and microbial risk.

“We all hope and pray there will never be another 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina,” said Dr. William Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University. “If there is, however, the knowledge developed by this new center will go a long way toward assuring the best possible preparation and the most humane, coordinated effort possible to assist victims and speed recovery.”

In addition to Johns Hopkins, other institutions involved with the new center are Florida A&M; the University of South Florida; Florida State University; Florida Atlantic University; the University of Central Florida, the University of Alabama (Birmingham); Morgan State University; the University of Buffalo; the American Red Cross; the Brookings Institute; Loma Linda University; the University of South Dakota; Tuskegee University; the University of Alabama College of Communications; Jacksonville State University; Oregon Health and Science University; the University of Rochester Medical Center; the Denver Health and Medical Center; the Maryland Medical Services System; the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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