National Homeland Security and Defense director Tom Ridge on Tuesday offered a glimpse at a growing federal and perhaps international strategy for sharing health information in the wake of a biological crisis.
During prepared remarks Ridge cited the need to better share information among "first responders" to a national emergency, including health professionals. "We also need a strong national biodefense strategy," said Ridge, "a system that strengthens the public health system, increases the ability of local hospitals to handle major public emergencies and better protects the nations food supply."
In response to questions, Ridge elaborated, pointing out that the Department of Health and Human Services has a partially complete infrastructure called the "Health Alert Network."
"And as we develop a national plan and build a permanent infrastructure, the infusion of technology into all 50 states and connecting all public health departments, so we have a central clearinghouse for all relevant public health information is very much a part of what we will do as we create a homeland security strategy," said Ridge.
While already a "work in progress" Ridge suggested "appropriate funding" could help accelerate the project.
Next up on the agenda, a global health network:
"The long-term goal, particularly as we take the extraordinary work that has been done by the international coalition--again, this is a much longer term--it would be very unique and obviously unprecedented to have a similar public health information-gathering capacity not just within this country, but among the coalition allies, because these kind of attacks and bioterrorism threats and attacks could occur in other countries, as well," said Ridge.