In conjunction with an interagency task force, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano yesterday announced new proposed guidance for protecting the health of emergency responders during an anthrax attack on a major U.S. city, according to a DHS press release.

"Protecting our first responders during terrorist attacks is critical to our nation’s security," said Secretary Napolitano. "This guidance will better equip the courageous men and women across the country who would be the first to respond during a large-scale anthrax attack."

"It is essential that all responders have the appropriate protections available to them to be able to operate while minimizing exposure to these lethal threats," said Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alexander Garza. "This proposed guidance will help keep responders healthy and safe while remaining consistent with operational realities."

The proposed guidance recommends protective measures such as personal protective equipment and decontamination and hygiene procedures for first responders, public health and medical professionals, skilled support personnel, essential workers in critical infrastructure sectors, certain federal and private sector employees, and volunteers.

The guidance — developed by a federal working group consisting of experts from more than a dozen agencies relating to biodefense, infectious diseases, and occupational health and safety — reflects the most current understanding of the unique environment that would exist after a wide-area anthrax attack. It comes in response to a 2008 Homeland Security Council tasking requiring the development of appropriate measures for responders in the immediate post-attack environment of an aerosolized anthrax attack.

The guidance is also intended to support ongoing planning and preparation efforts for protecting responders engaged in environmental sampling and remediation, as well as others in responder roles.

DHS published the Notice of Availability of the guidance in theFederal Registeryesterday and the public will have 30 days from that date to comment.

Interested stakeholders are encouraged to comment