London Attacks May Contain Clues for U.S. Emergency Preparedness

Michael J. Hopmeier, a leading expert on homeland security and emergency preparedness, said that monitoring the efficacy of the medical response to the terrorist attacks on London's mass transportation system could provide vital information as the United States prepares for possible attacks on its own people and infrastructure.

"Immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack, all available medical personnel rushed to their hospitals with no planning and no reserve," Hopmeier noted. "In the event that 9/11 had been a mass casualty, rather than mass fatality, incident, our medical system would have completely collapsed from exhaustion in 24-36 hours, while during the early phase, many health personnel who were awake and alert had very little to do."

Western societies have changed their responses in the past 4 years to prepare for mass casualties caused by terrorism. Hopmeier noted that the London attacks, although differing in scale from those of 9/11, could provide emergency planners with important lessons about how to plan for future events.

"Medical response to disaster can be generally characterized as the quick introduction of all available resources as soon as possible," he said. "Unfortunately, that also can mean a significant amount of assets are wasted early on, assets that could then become vital in the later stages of a response."

He said it will be important for U.S. policymakers to examine whether the British model of preparedness has allowed them to optimize their overall response, with an end goal of reducing overall mortality and morbidity throughout the entire emergency, not merely during the first 24-48 hours, regardless of whether the current wave of terrorist outrages end with today's attacks, or more are carried out in the next few days."

Hopmeier, president of Unconventional Concepts Inc., a Mary Esther, Fla.-based engineering and scientific consulting firm, is a technical adviser and operational consultant to numerous governmental agencies, including DARPA, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, NASA and the U.S. Army National Protection Center.

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