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Nationwide tracking system to detect disease needed

Posted: Friday, August 23, 2002

The anthrax scare and the bioterror threat have exposed a fundamental problem in homeland security: The nation has no nationwide tracking system to detect a surge in illness or disease. Rescue workers are trained to respond to bombings and other catastrophic events, but they lack a warning system to detect a silent spread of invisible killers. Congress took a step last year to close this gap, but continued funding will be required to make the safety net operational.

The terrorist attacks heightened the urgency of putting a nationwide tracking system into place. Congress deserves credit for realizing the need, and the $17.5-million allocation for pilot projects in the 50 states begins the process of laying the architecture behind an integrated system. But it will take years and almost $300 million to build a nationwide network. The big money needs to come now.

The House and the Bush administration, like the Senate, have shown support for the initiative. The startup cost -- a dollar for every American -- is a bargain given the protection the network would provide for our communities. Congress should make a large down payment this year.

-- St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times

Aug. 20

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