NEWARK, NJ - City health and emergency management officials assured the Newark City Council on Tuesday it was fully equipped to respond to a host of potential bioterrorism attacks but is struggling with how to disseminate information about how prepared it was to the public amid the city’s lead water crisis.
Mark Wade, the director of Newark’s health department, told the council his department was working on a plan to inform residents about emergency response efforts to possible future bioterrorism attacks but offered few details on how to do so.
“We want to inform our community without alarming our community,” Wade said.
Despite presenting emergency response and preparedness details to the City Council during a public meeting, Wade, joined by the city’s deputy emergency management coordinator Juba Dowdell, said now is not the time to push bioterrorism information out to the community as the city continues to deal with the fallout of a lead water crisis affecting 14,000 households.
Both men refused to take follow-up questions about the juxtaposition after their presentation because they said they do not speak to the media. Dowdell refused to say what his own name was and instead held up a business card.
Dowdell told the council the city’s Office of Emergency Management conducts routine drills in response to potential terrorism attacks around the city that have also included developing evacuation plans should attacks or active shooter situations occur at the Prudential Center.
Dowdell said the city is also prepared to combat smallpox and anthrax, the top two biological agents emergency officials consider to be of highest concern. The city has packed away stockpiles of preventative medication to deal with anthrax alone, 18 years after spores of the substance was mailed to high profile government officials and members of the media in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks.
Aside from suggesting town halls, Wade did not go into detail about how the department plans to inform the public about what emergency prep protocols the city has in place, but told the council with confidence it would be a “massive process.”