The terrorist attacks of September 11 and the subsequent assaults with anthrax through the postal system underscored both strengths and weaknesses in the U. S. public health system. These events created a sense of urgency to perform a long-overdue critical reassessment of our system. Terrorism and Public Health provides such an assessment. It addresses how individuals, government agencies, and health care and other organizations can be more effective in responding to and preventing future acts of terrorism while at the same time meeting other essential health needs and protecting human rights.
Given the number and variety of weapons that can be used, terrorism creates unique challenges for the public health system in planning, response, and prevention efforts. Human-made and highly unpredictable, bioterrorism in particular is a special kind of terrorism that can create unusual epidemics.
Globally, public health has brought humankind together in a spirit of cooperation and mutual support. The eradication of smallpox and the near-eradication of polio are perhaps the best examples of this spirit. Terrorism represents a different kind of force as people attempt to use infectious diseases and related agents as weapons against other people. Public health has a critical role to play in responding to terrorism and preventing or reducing its impact, but it must work in conjunction with the criminal justice system and other parts of society to be truly effective in this endeavor.