Preparing for Chemical and Biological Terrorist Attacks
Improving the ability of the civilian medical community to respond to a chemical or biological terrorist attack requires more than simply providing cities with military training and equipment, according to a new report from a committee of the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. The committee identified more than 60 research and development projects that could help minimize damage caused by a terrorist attack. Examples include
* new drugs and vaccines to combat anthrax and smallpox,
* faster and easier-to-use chemical detectors and diagnostic tests, and
* communications software to improve disease surveillance and to provide information about possible attacks.
Preparations for biological or chemical terrorism should build on systems already in place, such as those designed to handle hazardous-material spills, infectious disease outbreaks, and natural disasters. Public health departments, poison control centers, and metropolitan police officials, who are already working in these areas, are best equipped to handle the challenges posed by terrorism. These entities must adapt new and emerging technologies for the detection of chemical and biological warfare agents. Especially needed are faster, simpler, cheaper, and more accurate tools for detecting and identifying a wide spectrum of toxic substances.
Knowing who is going to attack, when, and where is particularly difficult in a civilian setting. Military officials, by contrast, might know or suspect that an enemy has a stockpile of biological weapons and could vaccinate soldiers against some of these agents. In the civilian environment, the enemy, the weapon, and the time and place of attack may all be unknown, making this sort of preparation impossible. …