The Threat of Bioterrorism
Hank Investigates: The Threat of Bioterrorism
The 1995 sarin gas attack on the Japanese subway proved the threat was reality. And just two months afterward, this newly declassified presidential directive reveals then President Clinton's orders. When it comes to "weapons of mass destruction" he said, "acquisition...by a terrorist group…is unacceptable," and there should be "no higher priority" than preventing it.
When bioterrorism experts tackled the problem, this CDC strategic plan tells their bottom line, "the consequences of being unprepared are devastating."
In case of disaster, it's the state that'd take over first. Here, headed by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and Department of Public Safety. Finding out what we're up against is the job of the Department of Public Health, funded by millions of dollars in bioterrorism preparedness grants.
- Hank Phillippi Ryan
"Is the state set up to handle such an attack?"
- Paul Jacobsen, Depty. Commr. Mass. Dept. of Public Health
"No one can say they're 100 percent to handle and respond to any situation, but I think in terms of planning and putting steps in place were working pretty well toward that goal."
Today, DPH labs are off limits to outsiders: but this is where they would test patient samples--checking for a bio-hit.
- Hank Phillippi Ryan
"If your labs do find something, who would they call next?"
- Paul Jacobsen
"There is a process people have been trained, the emergency departments are all communicating, we've had a bioterrorism coordinator since roughly 1996."
Federal reports say the results of a bio attack would depend on the agents used. They're now calculating which could actually be distributed and which could have antidotes.
What medication there is, is stockpiled in secret regional stashes, waiting to be commandeered by the feds. But medical experts say that it's time for planning to go into even higher gear.
- Dr. Bill Roper, Former Dir., CDC
"It is time to acknowledge bioterrorism as a real threat to modern American life."
It's complicated. Working with infections agents put the terrorists themselves at risk. Many are difficult to make and many are difficult to control. Here at home, DFPH officials told me today they're getting phone calls from people worried that they'll need a gas mask and wondering where to buy one.
As planning continues, current federal research on of bioterrorism all emphasizes the difficulty in what they call "weaponizing" biological and chemical agents. They say remember: many are tough to acquire, and they're dangerous to make, and they're unpredictable to use.