Last month's terrorist attacks and the recent anthrax death in Florida have spurred federal officials to quietly push for the completion of local plans to deal with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
The city has been working with the federal government since 1998 to develop a comprehensive plan to cope with an incident that could be unleashed in the area, but recent events have highlighted the necessity for the project.
“Since Sept. 11, we're under pressure to move our plans along,” said battalion Chief Michael Wolever of the Toledo fire department, who is helping coordinate the local effort. “They haven't done it officially, but we have heard from [federal officials] with phone calls.”
City council is expected to vote Tuesday to accept $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is making payments as various stages of the project are completed.
“The question that's been asked is whether there's a plan in place,” said council President Peter Ujvagi. “I expect to move forward to accept the funding and then move forward with the completion of the plan.”
Chief Wolever and fellow battalion Chief Greg Locher are heading up the city's efforts to plan for a nuclear, biological, or chemical strike. In the wake of events such as the World Trade Center attack and Oklahoma City bombing, the federal government entered into contracts with cities around the country to develop plans.
Training exercises involving various police and fire departments, hospitals, health departments, and emergency medical services have been conducted over the last few years as pieces of the plan have been completed with guidance from the federal government.
Part of the federal money will be used for equipment and to acquire enough drugs to cope with biological or chemical agents for 24 hours, at which point national relief efforts would be expected to be made available.
He said a medium-sized city such as Toledo, even though it might not seem an obvious target of terrorism, needs to be prepared.
“To say that Toledo's too small for something to happen, I don't buy into that,” said Chief Wolever, who is working full time on the project. “It may not be an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center event, but we may see the effects of a biological agent that's released in another location.”
Someone in another city who picks up a biological agent could travel to Toledo before realizing they're sick. In that event, people here could become ill, and the city would have to deal with a potential outbreak.
Chief Wolever said Toledo is far better prepared to deal with a catastrophe than when the process began but still has work to do. The final phase of the plan is due to be completed in 2003, but he thinks the city will be finished before then.
Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Toledo is one of 97 cities that have signed contracts to develop a plan. So far, the government has spent $50 million for the program, a figure that's expected to increase as preparedness is reassessed, he said.
Mr. Stevens said his agency was pushing the program well before the Sept. 11 attacks, but he said the terrorist acts that have occurred in America have made city officials see its importance.
“I don't think there was any coordinated effort before,” Mr. Stevens said. “This was the first coordinated effort between the federal government and the mayors' offices.”