By Trina Trice

Clayton and Henry county public health officials are hoping they'll get enough of the $35.7 million received by the state to help prepare against the threat of bioterrorism.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave Georgia the money that will be distributed to various public health agencies throughout the state.

The money is for upgrading public health systems and emergency planning.

"Continuing to improve our public health system and the capacity of our hospitals and major health providers is crucial at this time in our nation's history," said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. "We must build on the outstanding progress made in the past two years and continue working ... to enhance our nation's readiness." Clayton and Henry counties can expect to share approximately $8.8 million with other metro Atlanta counties.

"As an acute health hospital, Southern Regional Medical Center is prepared to provide acute care medical service as a result of a mass influx of (bioterrorism victims)," said James Crissey, vice president of Facilities and Support Construction at SRMC in Clayton County. "We must have a definitive system of response to deal with the medical needs of mass casualty victims and patients received as a result of natural and man-made disasters."

Henry Medical Center is adequately prepared for a bioterrorist disaster, said Steve Jordan, director of Safety and Security for Henry Medical Center.

"I think you can never be prepared," he said. "I think you do the best you can."

Both hospitals, along with other public health organizations in Clayton and Henry counties are hoping their shortfalls will give them the edge on the federal government-allotted funds.

Although SRMC officials are still determining specifically what the hospital needs, Crissey knows for sure that they'll probably for funds to purchase personal protective equipment, such as breathing apparatus and protective clothing; communications equipment; and negative pressure isolation rooms.

Henry County's 911 Call Center has been recommended for the purchase of mobile public safety answering point, or a mobile 911 call center, worth $394,000, said Don Ash, director of Emergency Communications for Henry County.

If SRMC gets the approval for isolation rooms, a couple of emergency treatment rooms will have to be converted. External decontamination equipment, worth $20,000 apiece, could also be requested, Crissey said.

The money given to Georgia is part of nearly $1.4 billion announced nationally by HHS.

It will be used to upgrade infectious disease surveillance and investigation, enhance the readiness of hospitals, expand public health laboratory and communications capacities and improve connections between health centers.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.