The New York Police Department, the FBI and the city’s health department have agreed on a set of rules that will govern investigations of suspected biological attacks in the city, says the New York Times. A six-page “protocol” outlines the roles the agencies will play as well as how confidential medical information is to be shared. It resulted in part from lessons learned during the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, which killed five people in Florida and the Northeast and infected more than a dozen others in the months after the Sept. 11 strikes.
The accord, which was worked out over the last two years, states that while law enforcement officials have the lead in investigating any terrorist crime, such investigations must be conducted jointly with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene since physicians are likely to be the first to identify a victim of a germ attack. Law enforcement officials in the course of a bioterrorism investigation, will have access to the once typically confidential medical information of those who might have become infected. The police and FBI must keep such information confidential. To encourage sick people to seek medical help, law enforcement agencies have agreed essentially to overlook a sick person’s immigration problems or minor criminal activities. Richard Falkenrath, President Bush’s former deputy homeland security adviser, said that he knew of no comparable agreement at the federal level and that New York was ahead of other cities in trying to sort through the roles of public health and law enforcement officials in a bioterrorist attack.