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Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge Addresses Reporters

Aired October 29, 2001 - 11:53   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: To the White House now. The timing is perfect for Tom Ridge to come out and talk more with reporters there about homeland security and the questions that abound.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to today's briefing on homeland security. I think one of the things that you'll note in the president's schedule today is that he will be meeting with the homeland security team, the principals, later on this afternoon.

You should know that during the past several weeks I have been meeting on a daily basis, along with individual members of the homeland security team, but we have begun to formalize that process. And even though the president's been in touch with us on a constant basis, we've decided to formalize it. And we probably have some action items coming out of today's homeland security meeting, so stay tuned, we'll probably be back to you later on this afternoon.

The president has been conducting a 24-hour war on terrorism, not just with our troops located in Afghanistan and with the eyes of this country toward Afghanistan, but it's been a 24-hour-a-day war on terrorism here in the United States.

And there have been so many elements and so many agencies that have been involved in this process. And what we intend to do in the days and the weeks ahead are to bring some of these major players to this briefing room from time to time on a regular basis to deal with the questions that you might have.

As I said before, as we continued our round-the-clock war on terrorism at home, we think it's very appropriate to bring some of these principals together on a regular basis to respond to questions that you might have and obviously some questions that people in America have as well.

Today, joining me from the Department of Health and Human Services is my friend and former colleague, Tommy Thompson, and he is joined by Dr. Pat Meehan, the director of Emergency Environmental Services with the Centers for Disease Control and I've asked them to give you an update this morning.


TOMMY THOMPSON, H.H.S. SECRETARY: Thank you very much, Tom. Good morning to all the reporters here. I just would like to briefly update on the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Currently, the Department of Health and Human Services has 575 individuals in the field responding to acts of threats of bioterrorism. And these wonderful dedicated employees are helping state and local officials in Washington, New York, New Jersey and Florida. And as officials in these affected communities know more resources and help are only a phone call away, we're going to be very aggressive as possible in responding to acts of threats or bioterrorism. We understand that people are very concerned about anthrax, and we're going to continue to respond with the personnel, the expertise and the medicine necessary to deal with these acts and threats of bioterrorism. We're going to err on the side of caution.

We're doing our best to get help to those at risk of anthrax exposure as quickly as possible. And we're also working as aggressively as we can to strengthen our response capabilities. We know we have to get stronger, and we're working with the Congress to ramp up as quickly as possible.

Americans should know that we have the best scientists, the best doctors and bioterrorism experts in the country helping us in this endeavor. We're learning more each and every day, and we're becoming stronger each and every day. And we're going to keep working our hardest to tackle this new challenge facing our country. We are determined and we will not be deterred in our efforts.

We appreciate the hard work and dedication of our partners at the state and local level as well. And as the medical community, they're doing a good job of identifying cases that might be anthrax so that precautionary measures can be taken and that we might respond as quickly as possible. We also have reached an agreement with all those individuals dealing with the flu vaccine, and they will be delivered on time, and we will have an increased amount of about five million doses. So we will have 85 million doses of vaccine flu that will be sent out to the clinics and to the hospitals in the month of November, and hopefully, all will be sent by the first week in December.

In regards to the most recent update on anthrax, the Cohen Building has been presumably positively tested for anthrax this past couple of days. And all the individuals in the mailroom are on antibiotics. And we are letting all the individuals know the mailroom shave been closed down.

But presumptive positive means that the next -- the environmental testing will now go to the CDC labs in Atlanta. And that inclusion of that information will be sent back within the next 24 to 48 hours.

With that, I introduce Pat Meehan.

PAT MEEHAN, U.S. ATTORNEY: Good morning -- almost afternoon.

As of this morning, we continue to have 12 confirmed cases of anthrax, 6 suspect cases. And the good news is there have been no new confirmed cases in the last couple of days.

Although, I have to tell you that one of the suspect cases in New Jersey is of concern to us and could move to the confirmed category in the near future.

Thank you.

RIDGE: Now, our partners in the United States Postal Service continue to work, likewise, on that 24 hour pace to isolate, treat and remediate any and all contaminated sites. They are also working with, as rapidly as possible, to restore service to the affected areas and to clean up any mail that may have been contaminated.

The United States Postal Service had a difficult weekend as they laid to rest two of their own members -- very difficult weekend for the family and, the larger family, the Postal Service community. So we remember them in our prayers.

And, likewise, ask Tom Day, who is vice president for engineering, to join us, from the Postal Service, to give you an update.


TOM DAY, VICE PRESIDENT, ENGINEERING, U.S. POSTAL SERVICE: From the Postal Service standpoint, we have continued our downstream testing of facilities. In the D.C.-Baltimore area we have over 6,000 employees on antibiotics and, in the New York-New Jersey area, nearly 7,000 employees on antibiotics.

As our testing does find any hot spots, and that has been limited, we then move forward to decontaminate those facilities. Nothing to add in terms of new hot spots found.

In terms of irradiation of the mail, we started this past weekend in Lima, Ohio to irradiate. We've been working closely with the president's Office of Science and Technology to coordinate with other federal agencies to ensure that the level of irradiation that we're applying to this mail can give us a high degree of confidence that we're dealing with the threat. We'll continue to work towards that and study it.

The mail is a very -- various products that go through there so it does not have the homogeneity that you might find in some of the testing that's been done with both food processing and medical sterility, and up to this point, that's where that type of technology's been used.

So we'll work closely with them. We've set a very high dose level that we believe gives a high degree of confidence and we're also doing extensive quality assurance with the company that what they are applying does prove to be very effective.

Also, with the same company, we have contracted for eight of those systems. We are looking to deploy them to facilities where we can then put the mail through and not have to transport it great distances outside of this area, and we're looking to get even more capacity, if possible, to increase the ability to irradiate mail.

HEMMER: We are going to keep an eye on what is happening at the White House with the Homeland Security briefing now, but at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld now, speaking on a Monday. We will go there now.





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