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Preparing For The Next Disaster

Good job on "The next big one (Cover Story, Sept. 19)," but you forgot the biggest one: the atrophy of our basic skills in a technological society. The work of civil servants is necessary and many times wonderfully done, but when a "big one" comes, the best first responder is oneself. We must retain, or regain, our basic independent living skills.

Ray Huntington

Cutchogue, N.Y.

The numbers in BusinessWeek's table "Sleepless nights," accompanying "The next big one," do not reflect the most recent information about the effects of the 1986 nuclear power plant accident in Chernobyl. The U.N.'s Sept. 5 report on Chernobyl concludes that of the more than 100,000 plant workers and personnel involved in responding to the accident, about 50 died as a result of radiation exposure. Among the 4,000 children who developed thyroid cancer as a result of absorbing radioactive iodine from the accident, nine died. The report also estimates that about 4,000 people could ultimately die of cancer caused by Chernobyl exposure. A toll of 4,000 possible deaths from a nuclear power plant accident is still a disaster and unacceptable but nonetheless represents the best-documented figures for a chart such as the one you published.

Scott Burnell

Public Affairs Officer

Nuclear Regulatory Commission


As the closest Level I Trauma Center to the World Trade Center and Wall Street, St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan is acutely sensitive to preparing for another disaster ("New York takes another hit," Cover Story, Sept. 19). Most hospitals receive only $75,000 a year [in terrorism funding]. St. Vincent's has spent much more than that to train and equip our own private EMS Paramedics, EMTs, and emergency-department physicians and nurses in the area of disaster preparedness. This requires consistent repetitive drilling of disaster scenarios, including an unknown explosion, chemical attack, or biologic outbreak.

On our own, St. Vincent's is trying to raise $25 million for a new Rudolph W. Giuliani Trauma Center, with high capacity decontamination facilities, the ability to isolate patients exposed to a biological agent, and the capacity to handle a surge of patients from an accident or disaster.

Richard Westfal, M.D.

Medical Director for

EMS & Disaster Preparedness

Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers

New York

As a psychiatric social worker with a background in disaster planning for children, I have published two papers on my Web site, A weapon of mass destruction or an industrial accident could spew toxins into neighborhoods and/or schools. As chaotic and tense as a decontamination scene would be, there has been little to no preparation for taking children through the process. Children require rapid decontamination -- they are more susceptible than adults to toxins, biological agents, radiation, and hypothermia. In addition, if distraught parents are not adequately responded to, they will likely increase the morbidity and mortality of the event by interfering with decontamination and becoming contaminated themselves.

Peter Sternberg


Re "Let that be a warning" ("Katrina's wake," Cover Story, Sept. 12): Federal Emergency Management Agency buyouts of properties within floodways (not flood plains) are ongoing. Floodways are narrow strips of property within limited regions where river velocities make structural failure highly likely. But in coastal regions, where the potential for a storm surge is on a geological scale, what has been the market force in determining development is the withholding of flood insurance from these areas -- tantamount to issuing an "at your own risk" sign to homeowners. Instead, FEMA has pushed for building-code upgrades to include "velocity zones" for wave structure interaction.

My family has repeatedly lost everything to storms. We have not cried about lower payouts. We have gone on building and living there because the reward of our way of life is more valuable than the inevitable disasters. The issue becomes politically dramatic only when you make people feel that the federal government will pay for all damages dished out by Mother Nature.

Roy S. Willett, Project Manager

FM&R Projects, KBR

Balad, Iraq

Editor's note: The writer, a civil engineer, is originally from the Mississippi coast.

"Sweating for dollars" (Social Issues, Sept. 19) credits a Tacoma surgeon's idea 20 years ago for sparking the use of walkathons, bikeathons and other events for charitable causes. In April, 1980, a great Canadian named Terry Fox, after losing a leg to cancer, started a cross-country, fund-raising "Marathon of Hope" in St. John's, Newfoundland. Fox's intent to end his run on the country's west coast was cut short after 143 days and 3,339 miles when it was discovered that cancer had spread to his lungs. He died in June, 1981, one month short of his 23rd birthday. Every year marathons involving over 2 million participants worldwide are run in his name, raising money for cancer research.

Ajay Jyoti


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