Biological Attack In Living Terrors by Michael T. Osterholm and John Schwartz, the threat of biological attack on the United States is introduced to the public. Using Living Terrors and a number of sources that are extremely knowledgeable on the question of preparedness of the United States to a biological attack, I will argue that the United States is in no way prepared to handle a biological attack on its soil. Nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are all considered weapons of mass destruction. However, unlike chemical or nuclear weapons, biological weapons combine maximum destructiveness and easy availability. According to Richard Betts, "nuclear arms have great killing capacity but are hard to get; chemical weapons are easy to get but lack such killing capacity; biological agents have both qualities" (9).
In 1993, a study by the Office of Technology Assessment concluded that "a single airplane delivering 100 kilograms of anthrax spores by aerosol on a clear, calm night over Washington D. C. , could kill up to 1 to 3 million people in a three hundred square mile area surrounding Washington D. C." (Osterholm and Schwartz 9).
Biological weapons are a dangerous threat to the United States. According to Eric No ji, associate director of bio terrorism preparedness for the Center for Disease Control, "the threat of chemical and biological intentional releases is a clear and present danger" (Fialka et al B 1). However, there is evidence that the United States is not taking the threat of a biological attack seriously. The investigating branch of Congress named the General Accounting Office or GAO, "charged that the government has failed to properly manage the medical stockpiles developed to protect the public from the scourge of potentially devastating biological weapons" (Cohen M 2). Lack of Government funding against a biological attack is also evidence that the United States is not taking the threat of bio terrorism seriously. Mohammad N.
Akhter, who is the executive director of the American Public Health Association, was quoted as saying that he "barely had the budget to deal adequately with a severe outbreak of the flu, let alone contain a smallpox epidemic" (A 23). In the fiscal year of 2000: The Department of Health and Human Services received $238 million out of a total government counter terrorism budget of $10 billion. That $10 billion budget request included only $43. 4 million for research and development against biological terrorism, with $40 million to develop and procure drugs and vaccines for the national medical stockpile. The National Institutes of Health received $24 million for research and on diagnostics, vaccines and other treatments.
Finally, a mere $41 million was procured for public health preparedness in the fifty states and the major metropolitan areas (Osterholm and Schwartz 173-174). The nation's public health infrastructure is not in anyway prepared for a biological attack on its soil. The nation's hospitals would be at the forefront of any biological attack, and "a study of 200 hospitals this year revealed that only one in five had any response plan for biochemical weapons. Less than half had decontamination units with showers" (Fialka et al B 1).
Steve Can trill, "associate director of emergency medicine at the Denver Health Medical Center (Connolly A 29) " warned in an interview with the Washington Post that "most hospitals could not handle a sudden surge in patients caused by a biological assault without degenerating into chaos" (Connolly A 29). The first responders to any biological attack would not be agents from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), but rather local emergency responders such as "doctors and local public health authorities" (Cohen M 2). However, many emergency workers don't have the training to deal with biochemical threats. Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies reported "only about 3% of likely domestic emergency responders have been trained in the past five years in dealing with the effects of weapons of mass destruction" (Fialka et al B 1). In fact "few doctors have ever seen a case of smallpox, plague or anthrax. Few, if any, medical laboratories are equipped to diagnose such conditions" (Cohen M 2).
In the event of a biological attack, federal stockpiles of medical supplies would be critical to saving lives. However, the GAO: criticized multiple government agencies for managing the stockpiles so poorly that they might be unavailable in the event of attack. The GAO found both shortages of vital drugs and deficiencies in the amount of emergency supplies supposed to be on hand (Cohen M 2). The Chemical Biological Response Force, a Marine Corps unit created to treat civilian victims of a biological attack, also came under scrutiny from the GAO. The GAO "discovered that more than a quarter of the Corps's tock pile was plagued with inventory discrepancies and record keeping errors" (Cohen M 2).
Smallpox vaccines that are so vital in the prevention of smallpox, a deadly virus that erupts in a "honeycomb of blisters," have "dwindled to just 12 million doses" (Fialka et al B 1). This is not enough to defend against a biological attack according to the book Living Terrors that states, "in an attack on a major metropolitan area such as New York or Los Angeles, the 12 million doses will go quickly" (Osterholm and Schwartz 132). Although the Department of Health and Human Services or HHS has a contract with "U. K.
biotech concern Acambis PLC" to produce 40 million doses of new smallpox vaccines, "the new vaccine isn't expected until 2004" (Fialka et al B 1). All of these examples of the United States ineptitude to handle a biological attack are not just based on facts. In the year 2000: Congress directed the Department of Justice to conduct a simulation named TOP OFF to test the ability of the U. S. to respond to biological attacks around the country including the use of an aerosol mist of Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that caused the Black Plague in Europe. In the exercise, reports of casualties ranged as high as 4, 000 infected and 2, 000 dead.
Beds ran out, hospitals closed and drugs were exhausted in the simulation (Fialka et al B 1). The all too common virus of the flu or influenza stretched the public health system to the limit. The influenza season of the winter of 2000 "taxed the hospitals and clinics to the breaking point" (Osterholm and Schwartz 134). Michael Osterholm, a professor of public health at the University of Minnesota, heard a senior CDC official remark "if the routine level of seasonal influenza stresses the system that much, I can't begin to imagine what an epidemic situation a bio terrorism event will do" (134). Biological attack us the perfect weapon for an aggrieved group that decides it wants to kill huge numbers of Americans. In fact, the director for the HHS's National Center for Infectious Diseases, testified, "many experts believe that it is no longer a matter of if but when such an attack will occur" (Fialka et al B 1).
Secretary of the HHS, Tommy G. Thompson, was quoted on 60 minutes as saying "We " re prepared to take care of any contingency, any consequence that develops for any kind of bio-terrorism attack" (Connolly A 29). However, even Mr. Thompson has quietly "intensified the HHS's push to build awareness to the threat and strengthen public health defenses" (Fialka et al B 1). The Senate Appropriations Committee Chairmen, Robert C. Byrd has claimed that Mr.
Thompson's comments on 60 minutes "were not credible -- - especially in light of Thompson's request for nearly $1 billion in emergency anti-terrorism projects" (Connolly A 29). Osterholm, Michael T, Ph. D. , M. P. H.
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