Bioterrorism / Emergency Response Team (BERT)
The Bioterrorism / Emergency Response Team (BERT) was formed in late 2002 when the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) received a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for bioterrorism preparedness.
The grant divided Missouri into nine regions, following the Highway Patrol's region divisions. Southwest Missouri's Highway Patrol Region D became "Homeland Security Planning Region D."
In 2006 grants were redistributed, giving each county in Region D the opportunity to hire its own bioterrorism preparedness staff.
Now, Vernon, Barton, Dade, Jasper and McDonald counties are served by Regional Planner Lawrence "Mac" McKeough working out of Joplin.
Polk and Dallas counties are served by Regional Planner Theron Becker working out of Bolivar.
Lawrence, Barry and Taney counties are served by Planner/Regional Epidemiology Specialist Robert Niezgoda, working out of Branson.
Greene County is served by Regional Planner JD Slaughter and Regional Epidemiology Specialist Linda DeGraffenreid. Administrative Assistant Anita Eddy also works out of Springfield.
Cedar, Christian, Hickory, Newton, St. Clair, Stone and Webster counties have acquired their own planning and epidemiology services.
Public Health Information Specialist Jaci McReynolds and Volunteer Educator/Coordinator Rebecca Ray both work out of Springfield and serve all 18 counties in Region D.
Members of the Bioterrorism / Emergency Response Team (BERT) work with key partners in the counties they represent, such as Local Public Health Agencies (LPHA), Emergency Management, Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC), law enforcement, fire, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), hospitals, federally qualified health centers, homeland security response teams, schools and other partners on emergency planning efforts.
BERT's goals are to improve preparedness for a bioterrorism event or other public health emergency. Mitigation, planning and exercising are all important components of BERT's work.
Following the tornado disaster in southwest Missouri in May 2003, the influenza vaccine shortage of 2004 and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, bioterrorism planning was used effectively to aid in regional response, disaster relief, supply dispensing and recovery efforts. These examples emphasize that bioterrorism planning efforts can also apply to other emergencies in an "all hazards" approach.
BERT publishes a quarterly newsletter, called the B.E.R.T. Update, with the latest information on bioterrorism and emergency planning and response efforts in southwest Missouri. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send your email address to subscribe.