Six Months After Anthrax, Marcus Foundation Commits $3.9 Million for CDC Emergency Response Center

Six months after the first confirmed case of anthrax in Florida, Bernard Marcus, Home Depot co-founder and ex-chairman and CEO, announced a $3.9 million pledge from his Foundation to the CDC Foundation to equip a state-of-the-art emergency response center at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In announcing the pledge, he called on other organizations and individuals to partner with CDC to improve national emergency preparedness.

“We cannot wait out the normal federal funding channels to make sure CDC has the equipment and technologies it needs to deal with the next emergency,” says Marcus, a CDC Foundation board member. “We must act quickly to build world-class facilities, install state-of-the-art equipment, and train a network of bioterrorism and other public health experts to ensure we are prepared. I call on America’s corporate and philanthropic leaders to join forces with the CDC Foundation to help bridge funding gaps in our local and national preparedness efforts.”

The Marcus Foundation acted swiftly to grant the first $1.1 million to enable CDC to immediately purchase equipment vital for responding to a national public health threat. The remainder of the funds will be used to equip the emergency response center with cutting-edge communication and data collection technologies. CDC had plans for an emergency response center prior to the anthrax investigation, but this event and the Marcus gift dramatically changed the scope of these plans, says CDC acting director, David Fleming, M.D.

“During the anthrax investigation, CDC staff worked around the clock in converted auditoriums, with phones and pagers to communicate,” Dr. Fleming says. “We quickly discovered what our needs were in a real emergency situation. The Marcus gift will enable us to equip a centralized facility where experts from across CDC can work together to direct response efforts and communicate rapidly with colleagues in the field and around the globe. This is a superb example of the power of public-private partnerships in enhancing our national ability to protect people’s health and safety.”

The emergency response center will ultimately be housed in a new CDC headquarters building on the agency’s main campus. The information-rich control and coordination hub will bring together audio, video and data feeds from scientists in the field to allow real-time analysis and decision-making. A multi-window video wall will display images from remote video feeds, cable TV and computer feeds. Multiple automated room cameras will send live video from the response center to distant sites.

Suitcase-sized portable satellite uplink transponders will be kept ready to deploy to hotspots during crisis situations. These units will enable CDC scientists in the field to send and receive voice, data and video feeds. By increasing the speed and accuracy of information exchange, CDC will be able to “virtually” send a greater number of experts to the site.

The emergency response center will be staffed around the clock to constantly monitor for potential threats to health and safety and prepare for rapid mobilization. During non-emergency times, emergency response center staff will train local, state and federal health officials in response and preparedness procedures.

The Marcus Foundation grant is the lead gift in a broad CDC Foundation initiative on emergency preparedness and response. The initiative, which is a Foundation fundraising priority, will help build partnerships between CDC and private sector groups to strengthen international and domestic preparedness and response capabilities. As part of the initiative, the Foundation also established, and is seeking funding for, an Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund to enable CDC to immediately purchase vital equipment and hire expert personnel to deal with emergency situations when federally appropriated funds are not readily available.

“We are extremely grateful for Bernie Marcus’ commitment to CDC, the City of Atlanta, and our nation,” says C. Charles Stokes, president and CEO of the Foundation. “His gift to CDC’s emergency response efforts will expand CDC’s ability to make a critical difference during future threats to public health.”