Is Your Community Prepared for a Bioterrorism Attack?

June 22, 2007
It is highly probable that biological attacks by terrorists will occur in the next 5 years. Dr. Raymond Zilinskis, senior scientist-in-residence at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, gave the above statement to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in 1999.

Nearly five and a half years later, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader William Frist told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that an “inevitable bio-terror attack” would come “at some time in the next 10 years.”

But how prepared are U.S. Communities, for a bioterrorism attack? Are local hospitals ready for the potential influx of patients during an attack? Are emergency responders and law enforcement personnel prepared to deal with thousands of casualties? Have they been properly trained?

The Bioterrorism Preparedness Board of ImmuneRegen BioSciences, a company that develops compounds as countermeasures for multiple homeland security threats including chemical agents, acute radiation sickness (ARS) and biological warfare scenarios, has come up with a checklist to help communities prepare for the unthinkable.

1. Organization ­ The simplest of all ideas; however, it is the most important and most overlooked. Are procedures in place to deal with an attack? Have they been properly communicated? Have roles been defined? Have objectives been established?

2. Pre-Attack Communication ­ A community needs to have a comprehensive crises communications plan before an attack. Have communities told citizens how they should respond to an attack? Have cities outlined what steps citizens should take in case of an attack? Where are the places citizens can get medicine and/or shelter? What can citizens do to prepare themselves?

3. Crises Communication ­ A separate plan needs to be in place at the time of an attack. How will civic leaders communicate with their citizens immediately following an attack? What are the primary communication channels that will be used? Is there a back-up plan?

4. Emergency Plan ­ Cities already should have various emergency plans. Have plans been updated to include a bioterrorism attack? Has it been communicated to all of the affected parties including law enforcement, emergency responders and hospitals?

5. Hospitals/Care Centers ­ Experts predict that most hospitals will implode in the event of a major bioterrorism attack. Is a community¹s hospital properly prepared? Can hospitals draw upon the resources of other hospitals? Do hospitals have their own crises plan? Have community leaders designated properly stocked alternative medical facilities to support local hospitals?

6. Emergency Responders ­ Workers from the police to firefighters to the National Guard must be prepared to respond. Can the various groups be mobilized quickly enough to deal with an attack? Have lines of communication been opened between the differing emergency responder groups? Can their efforts be coordinated so they can reach the maximum number of people?

7. Municipal Governments ­ These groups should be at the forefront of ensuring their communities are prepared. Have municipalities assessed their abilities to respond to an attack? Have they determined how many casualties they could handle without outside assistance?

8. Distribution Channels ­ A system should be set up that determines how people will receive treatment in case of a terrorist attack. Has a city defined its distribution channels to disperse not only medicine but also emergency response personnel?

9. Training ­ All responders to a bioterrorism attack need to have proper training. Have emergency responders been trained on how to detect and report unusual disease outbreaks? How often are emergency response drills held? What types of emergency response scenarios are used?

10. Equipment ­ An infrastructure to support the necessary distribution channels must be ready to mobilize. Has necessary equipment been identified? Can it be mobilized quickly? Have those who are qualified to operate been notified of their role in a disaster response?

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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