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'LOCK YOUR DOOR' IS TOP TIP IN DEALING WITH ANTHRAX THREAT, COUNTY EMERGENCY OFFICIALS SAY

"Lock your door and do not let any one in or out." That is the first step in a list of procedures the County Emergency Services Department is outlining for people to follow if an anthrax threat arrives by mail.

Commissioner Michael V. Walters, advises that anyone opening a letter or package -- and finding a threat inside -- should not panic. He said chances are slim that it contains anthrax, and, if it does, the response team can deal with it.

The rest of the instructions are:

"Don't pass the letter or package around or call a co-worker.

"Call 911 immediately and let them know what you have.

"Note the type of package, how it was delivered and anything that will help in the subsequent investigation.

--"Limit your exposure by leaving the item alone, closing the package or envelope with the materials inside.

"Keep your hands away from your face so you don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Wash your hands."

The aim of the Emergency Services Department's new advisory is to limit the people and areas to be checked for contamination while also protecting them.

The commissioner also hopes to cool threats and hold down the cumulative costs -- estimated as high as $150,000 per incident -- through a scaled system of response, based on assessment by the professionals of how serious they are.

For instance, Walters said, a threat of anthrax "in the ventilation system" was phoned to a building with enclosed hot water baseboard heat.

First responders will be local volunteers or professionals, the local police and firefighters, he said. They will tell the county workers what sort of backup they want. Dr. Anthony Billittier, medical director in county emergencies, said, "The public needs to know that there have been more than one hundred anthrax scares nationally -- all hoaxes," he said.

Billittier, director of prehospitalization at Erie County Medical Center, said the public workers who may be victims of these pranks should know that a letter announcing that it is infected with anthrax probably is not.

"It is unlikely," he said. "A terrorist is not going to announce. Experience has shown that they don't alert people first. We take each threat seriously. We thoroughly investigate."

Anthrax can be effectively treated by antibiotics, Walter said. Assemblyman Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo, meanwhile, is to hold a news conference Friday to announce that he is sponsoring state legislation to stiffen the punishment for anthrax threats.

The recent anthrax threats in the area -- which all proved false -- along with the recent snow emergencies and flooding are taxing the department.

County Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, told legislators Tuesday that the department will probably run into a budget gap caused by the unprecedented string of natural and terror-threat emergencies.

"There is no question that if this continues there is going to be a budgetary issue," said Swanick.

Six county emergency workers put in at least 40 hours of overtime last week, Walters said.

With a variety of agencies trying to respond, workers sometimes had trouble communicating on the scene, Walters said.

Legislator Dale Larson, R-Lancaster called for dedicated telephone connections for emergency crews using cell phones.

"When you have five emergency units, two or three police units and the hospital network -- all of them trying to talk together -- we really need to address that," said Walters.

Swanick urged a consensus among emergency, police and fire units on the sort of response network they all want.

The proposed 800 megahertz system, with an estimated price tag of as much as $35 million, could -- if eventually accepted -- require funding from local governments and agencies in addition to the county, Swanick said.

A special thank you to the county emergency workers was delivered by Legislator Jeanne Z. Chase, R-Evans, for rescues during what she described as "very serious flooding."

"They don't spend just a couple hours," she said. "They stay till they are done. We were moving people out in a high-lift. They made sure everyone was safe and all the senior citizens had their medications."

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