Missouri's Johnson County Accepts Federal Help For Health Responders and Possible Homeland Emergency

Johnson County, Mo., commissioners accepted more than $500,000 in federal help Thursday to better train public-health responders for a possible homeland emergency.

The amount was nearly $150,000 less than what the county received under the same grant program last year. It will be used primarily for better training, recruiting new emergency responders from the public and new equipment.

?We need to exercise our Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response program to find weaknesses,? Scott Voss, the county's public health emergency coordinator, said after Thursday's vote to accept the grant.

The federal money, doled out through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, will also be used to recruit a regionwide Medical Reserve Corps. The corps, much like civil air patrols decades ago, would be mobilized in the event of a terrorist attack or massive natural disaster, Voss said.

?When the chips are down and all our resources are tapped, we are going to have to get very creative to find other resources to draw on,? he said. ?We are going to rely on the help of other people to get this done.?

Grant money will also be used to enhance the county's FirstWatch system, a software package that monitors 911 calls in order to detect emerging bioterrorism threats.

Developed by Stout Solutions of San Diego, the system is used in Wichita, Wyandotte County and Kansas City to detect emergencies such as shortness-of-breath calls that could signal a release of a nerve agent or other respiratory attack. When such calls spike, a signal would be sent to health officials like Voss to evaluate and act.

Voss hopes the data in each regional government can be combined to better track possible threats across the Midwest.

Meanwhile, county officials said they continued to seek a larger share of federal homeland security money.

Johnson County officials were surprised to learn in June that a new funding formula created by the Governor's Council on Homeland Security had cut the county's anti-terrorism money. The changes appear to give greater emphasis to rural areas with significant agribusiness interests.

In addition to lobbying the state for more money, Annabeth Surbaugh, the county chairwoman, has been working through the National Association of Counties to ensure a more fair distribution of the money next year. Early indicators show new criteria weighted more favorably toward large metropolitan areas was being developed, she said Thursday.