CDC opens new center

Daniel Yee and Daniel Yee

ATLANTA — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a new $7.1 million emergency operations center to guard against bioterrorist attacks and help it track outbreaks of emerging diseases such as West Nile virus or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The center went into action March 14, weeks earlier than its planned dedication, when the first cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome were announced by the World Health Organization.

The center allows health officials to receive data and information from disease detectives in the field, and officials can quickly confer with international and federal agencies during a health crisis.

“This is a war room for health,” said Gov. Sonny Perdue, who toured the facility with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson yesterday.

“Any forensic or criminal investigator will tell you the best thing they can have at their fingertips is real-time information,” Perdue said. “This is real-time information that gives us a headstart on disease outbreaks.”

At one part of the center yesterday CDC officers tackled the worldwide outbreak of SARS, which has made more than 1,600 people ill, killing more than 60. There are stations that handle field teams, clinical concerns and international efforts against the disease.

Less sophisticated CDC crisis centers that tackled the 2001 anthrax attacks and last year’s West Nile virus explosion across the country were held in available places at the time that included a classroom and an auditorium on the CDC campus.

A $3.9 million donation by Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus helped make the new center a reality and 15 companies helped provide equipment for the center through the CDC foundation.

Because of security concerns, CDC officials requested that the media not reveal the exact location of the center.