Bioterrorism Preparedness: What School Counselors Need to Know

Article excerpt

Bioterrorism within the United States is a continuing threat. Because children and adolescents are among the most vulnerable populations during a bioterrorist attack, school counselors must be prepared with knowledge and skills. This article provides pertinent information including (a) a description of bioterrorism and biological agents, (b) the psychological impact of bioterrorism, (c) school counselors' role in a school-related incident, and (d) disaster mental health principles and procedures. Implications for school counselors are discussed in the context of the ASCA National Model[R].

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Bioterrorism in the United States is a continuing threat and immediate preparation is needed, as indicated in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (H.R. 5005-2) and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-188). National leaders have stated that we must confront the real threat of bioterrorism and prepare for future emergencies (Department of Homeland Security, 2004). Recent anthrax threats are evidence that all citizens in the United States are vulnerable to bioterrorism (Jernigan et al., 2002). The National Advisory Committee on Children and Terrorism (NACCT, 2003) has warned that "in the event of a terrorist attack, children would be among the most vulnerable populations in our society" (p. i).

To ensure the safety of school-aged children and adolescents, school counselors must not ignore or deny the public health threat of bioterrorism (Henderson, 1998). Rather, school counselors must be prepared with knowledge about bioterrorism and intervention skills. The purpose of this article is to increase school counselors' bioterrorism preparedness by providing information as follows: (a) a description of bioterrorism and biological agents, (b) the psychological impact of bioterrorism, (c) school counselors' role in a school-related incident, (d) disaster mental health principles and procedures, and (e) implications for school counselors in the context of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National Model.

BIOTERRORISM DESCRIPTION

What is bioterrorism? The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA, n.d.) has defined terrorism as "the use of force or violence against people or property to create fear and to get publicity for political causes" ([paragraph] 3). Bioterrorism is terrorism that uses biological weapons, which are organisms (bacteria or viruses) or toxins that can kill or injure people, livestock, or crops. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2001), the four categories of bioweapons are as follows: (a) bacteria such as plague, anthrax, and tularemia; (b) viruses such as smallpox and viral hemorrhagic fevers; (c) rickettsias such as Q fever; and (d) toxins such as botulinum, ricin, and mycotoxins. The CDC also has identified an "A" list of biological agents of highest concern, which includes (a) variola major (smallpox), (b) Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), (c) Yersinia pestis (plague), (d) Francisella tularensis (tularemia), (e) botulinum toxin (botulism), and (f) filoviruses and arenaviruses (viral hemorrhagic fevers). A description of these biological agents can be found at the CDC Web site, listed in the Appendix of this article.

Knowing the history of bioterrorism provides a helpful perspective. Biological weapons are the oldest of the triad of nuclear, biological, and chemical forms of terrorism and have been used for more than 2,500 years. The first recorded incident of bioterrorism was in 1340 when soldiers catapulted dead horses at a castle in Northern France (Public Broadcasting System, 2003). Closely following, in 1346, Tartars threw corpses infected with the plague over a city wall in Italy. In the 1760s, British soldiers spread smallpox in Boston and Quebec by giving Native Americans blankets with smallpox scabs. In World War II, Japanese soldiers used anthrax and plague against Chinese people, killing 10,000 (Public Broadcasting System). …