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LAWMAKERS CALL FOR TASK FORCE ON BIOTERRORISM

The Niagara County Legislature called Tuesday for the establishment of a regional task force to prepare for bioterrorism threats.

Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston, who sponsored the resolution, said experts on terrorism think that efforts to spread disease will be made by terrorists in case of "all-out war."

"This cannot be taken for granted," Simonson said. "We're taking about contagions in the air, the water. Jim Volkosh (county emergency management director) thinks the most likely thing is a food-chain event. . . . We believe the most effective way to address this is through a regional approach."

The resolution invites the other Western New York counties and Monroe County to form a bioterrorism task force "for the purposes of sharing information, coordinating local efforts and advocating for the resources necessary to get the job done."

The Legislature also ordered the county Health Department and Office of Emergency Services to assess Niagara's ability to respond to a bioterrorism attack.

Simonson said: "We have been very, very good with (hazardous materials) response -- second to none. We have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to bioterrorism."

Public Health Director Shirley A. Sampson said that when she called the county's five hospitals on Sept. 11 on the possible airlifting of patients here from the terrorist attack in New York City, "we weren't well-coordinated with what the response with the Health Department should be."

Legislator John W. Cole III, D-Lockport, told Sampson that it is up to law enforcement agencies to prevent bioterrorism.

Referring to threatened cuts in the Sheriff's Department in next year's budget, Cole said, "I certainly don't think the county is in any position to talk about weakening public safety and law enforcement."

The Legislature also passed a resolution condemning the terrorist attack on America and supporting President Bush.

It paused for a moment of prayer from County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow, a Lutheran minister, for survivors, emergency workers and government leaders.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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