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Poll: Most Americans Doubt Health System Could Handle Disaster

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NEW YORK - With the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks approaching, New Yorkers have less faith than ever that the nation's health system is prepared to handle another disaster, according to a survey released Monday.

Only 36 percent of New Yorkers this year say they are confident that the health system could adequately respond to terrorism compared with 53 percent last year, a poll by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found.

Nationwide, confidence in the health system's preparedness to handle a chemical, biological or nuclear attack also eroded, dropping to 46 percent from 53 percent over the last year.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., linked the public's skepticism to government missteps, such as the revelation by the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general that the White House ordered the agency to downplay the danger of toxins released by the twin towers collapse.

"One of the keys to an effective national preparedness system is for people to trust and rely on the information they receive from their government," said Clinton, who was invited by the school to a news conference where the survey was released.

The EPA's acting administrator has disputed the inspector general's conclusions.

The Columbia report also found that citizens' confidence in the government's emergency preparedness, while virtually unchanged from a year ago, is still low. About half of New Yorkers and 35 percent of adults nationwide lack confidence in the government's ability to protect citizens in the event of terrorism.

"We might be as prepared as we ever want to be, but if people don't understand that, if they don't feel that, then the level of anxiety and the potential emotional chaos that might be caused by additional terrorist attacks could be overwhelming," said the Mailman School's Irwin Redlener.


(c) 2003, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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