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San Diego Officials Contest Plan to Move Medical Stockpile

SAN DIEGO -- A federal agency plans to move a 25,000-pound stockpile of emergency medical supplies from San Diego to Los Angeles, an action San Diego County supervisors are protesting.

Local emergency officials said they fear, among other things, that disaster response, such as after October's devastating wildfires, might be slowed if the cache was moved out of the county. The supplies, which include cots, tents, defibrillators, ventilators and other equipment, are used by the federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team in San Diego County.

The team is one of 40 to 50 across the country that are sent to disaster areas with enough medical equipment to last for three days without resupply, either to assist swamped hospitals or establish field hospitals of their own.

Dr. Jake Jacoby of UC San Diego Medical Center, the commander of the team, said moving the stockpile could make it more difficult for the team to respond quickly -- and that he feared it could be the first step toward doing away with the team itself.

"I'm afraid of that," Jacoby said. "I believe this is a health threat to the region."

U.S. Department of Health and Human Service officials, who could not be reached for comment Monday, want to move the stockpile to Los Angeles as part of a regionalization process, according to the supervisors' meeting agenda.

Jacoby said the move would save the federal health agency the roughly $40,000 a year it spends to rent the San Diego warehouse where the supplies are stored.

San Diego County emergency operations officials said moving the stockpile could hurt residents. Since it was created in 1991, the team has been sent to several disasters, including the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001, a 2002 supertyphoon that crippled Guam and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

However, Jacoby said, the team also has been used locally during the devastating 2003 and 2007 firestorms.

Ron Lane, director of the county's emergency services, said a disaster such as an earthquake could destroy freeways and make it difficult, if not impossible, to use the stockpile to help local response. "We evacuated three hospitals and 13 nursing facilities in the October wildfires," Lane said. "Fortunately, we didn't have a lot of injuries, but if you had a disaster where there were thousands of casualties ... [the supplies] would have been very valuable to us." Jacoby said he hoped that county supervisors would send a letter of protest to federal health and human services officials, to get the agency to reconsider and leave the supplies in the San Diego area. Supervisor Greg Cox, chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, said he expected the group to do that today. Cox noted that there were just two north-south routes into the county, Interstates 5 and 15, and that disruptions to those could prevent the stockpile from being sent to help San Diego County residents if they were disrupted.

Interstates 5 and 15 were closed during parts of the 2007 wildfires. "That's all the more reason why ... this is something we ought to at least try to keep in San Diego County," Cox said.

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