One resource the incoming Obama administration is certainly to find no shortage of is advice. We don’t know whom they will listen to, although we know much of it — maybe most of it — is likely to be of the self-serving variety. How to separate the wheat from the chaff will be a delicate task. Powerful people who give lousy advice still get bent out of shape when it isn’t followed. So we’ll have to see. Meanwhile we will be scanning whatever advice is made public. An example is a report from the Defense Science Board, issued on Election Day, no less. It purports to give the next administration a list of priorities on how to prepare for a possible bioterrorism incident:
Bioterrorism is a rising concern, because biotechnology advances have made it easier to prepare infectious agents within the United States, according to the report. Reducing the nation’s vulnerability to such attacks requires preventing enemies from acquiring the materials, improving the ability to identify perpetrators, and devising effective retaliation options.
Terrorists could stage a weapon-of-mass-destruction (WMD) attack with materials or equipment purchased or stolen within the United States. The board wrote that one such vulnerability is a “dirty bomb” that could be made with the radioactive isotope Cesium-137, which is used at hospitals and clinics throughout the country.
“Our recommendation argues for realistic and repeated planning and replanning, repeated exercising and improvement, and a radical increase in our medical surge capabilities,” the report says. The board also emphasized the need for high-payoff medical, decontamination, and early-detection countermeasures.(Lisa Schnirring, CIDRAP News)
There also appears to be a recounting of all the very same topics discussed ad nauseam for pandemic planning: just-in-time inventory, poor coordination and overlapping and vague roles for key sectors, liability issues, planning incentives, encouraging a culture of preparedness, vulnerable infrastructures, etc., etc.
I haven’t seen the report, only this second hand account of it, but it sounds pretty worthless. We have known about all of these problems in the context of preparing for pandemic influenza. There is nothing new here. And if we are so concerned about materials being diverted, why do we keep ramping up production and potential access to them by building more and more “biodefense” laboratories (when no needs assessment for how many we need has ever been done and no accurate and up-to-date inventory exists of how many we have already); and why do we want to move to irradiating food for food safety reasons when it would greatly increasing access to materials for dirty bombs?
The best way to harden our communities against a bioterrorist attack is the same way we can make our communities more resilient against a pandemic: strengthen our public health and social service infrastructures by investing in the human resources needed to staff them adequately.
I think I may have said that here before. A few dozen times.