Responding to Bio-Terrorism Requires a Concerted Effort

Article excerpt

A homeland defense unit at the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command is working with civilian first-responders to improve the nation's capabilities against chemical and biological terrorist attacks.

Under a project called the Military Improved Response Program (MIRP), SBC-- COM partnered with and provided civilian first responders and emergency managers practical solutions to improve their preparedness in cases of biological and chemical terrorism. The program's successes underscore how Army scientists and engineers can partner with federal agencies such as the FBI, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture.

The MIRP was designed to leverage SBC-- COM's science and technology efforts to help first-responders manage the consequences of a chemical or biological event and improve the response capability of Defense Department organizations that provide military support to civilian authorities.

Four functional groups participate in the MIRP effort: health and medical; fire and hazmat; law enforcement and fatality management.

The health and medical group is working to improve the response capabilities against biological warfare by designing a set of alternative medical facilities. These facilities comprise the Modular Emergency Medical System (MEMS), a strategy for flexible expansion of a local medical infrastructure to accommodate large numbers of patients.

The fire and hazmat group is developing recommendations for firefighters and hazmat crews responding to chemical or biological terrorist incidents. This group also performs equipment testing to support fire and hazmat operations.

The law enforcement group is defining the role and conduct of criminal investigations for biological and chemical terrorism. The fatality management group is partnering with the civilian medical examiner and public health communities to determine how military resources can best support the management of mass fatalities resulting from a biological or chemical incident. They are also working with military mortuary affairs organizations to help develop a commander's guide for mass fatality management.

The MIRPs origins date back to fiscal year 1997, when the 104th Congress passed Public Law 104-201. Title XIV-Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction-provided for preparedness training against weapons of mass destruction for civilian first responders. Section 1415 of Title XIV stated, "The Secretary of Defense shall develop and carry out a program for testing and improving the responses of Federal, State and local agencies to emergencies involving biological and chemical weapons and related materials."

As a result of this legislation and in support of the Defense Department, SBCCOM established the improved response program (IRP). In October 2000, the civilian portion of the IRP was transitioned to the Department of Justice's Office of State and Local Domestic Preparedness Support. SBCCOM continues to retain a military IRP (MIRP) as part of its new homeland defense business unit.

Prior to the DOJ transition, the IRP conducted numerous analyses designed to identify and demonstrate the best practical approaches to improve the nation's preparedness for biological and chemical terrorism. The IRP was a multiyear analytical program designed to enhance the preparedness of civilian emergency responders and managers. As such, the IRP maintained a partnership between military experts and civilian responders and emergency managers at the federal, state and local levels. Civilian participants specialized in emergency management, law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical services, hazardous materials and public health.

The IRP identified, prioritized and developed solutions to the most pressing response issues associated with domestic chemical and biological terrorism. …