Shielding Key To Attack Response, Report Says
October 24, 2002--
What do you do in a biological weapons attack?
home, experts say. Stay there until officials say it’s safe
to leave. Running in panic will only increase the chance of becoming
infected and further spread the disease, said Dr. Gregory Saathoff,
associate professor of research and executive director of the U.Va.
Medical School’s Critical Incident Analysis Group, which released
a 60-page report Oct. 18 on how to best respond to a bioterrorist
biological attacks could spread both disease and fear, resulting
in an equally dangerous and contagious chain reaction of social
disruption,” Saathoff said. “Fear clouds judgment, leading
to horror, paranoia and panic. The wrong response to a bioterrorist
attack could well increase casualties and promote the terrorists’
cause—undermining America’s way of life.”
idea of voluntary quarantining is called community shielding, and
it doesn’t really work unless localities have thought about
it ahead of time, according to U.Va. law professor Richard Bonnie,
co-author of the group’s report. It calls for localities to
actively involve citizens in planning for worst–case events
and thinking in advance about such things as how the local government
would provide services, how communications would work, how food
and medical supplies would be delivered to neighborhoods living
as if snowbound.
trying to learn from the anthrax attack and be prepared,”
Bonnie said. The report thinks about the risk from and national
security and public health perspective and wants to build community
cooperation around voluntary strategies, he said.
on the disease released in the attack, the community shielding period
could last from seven to 28 days, Saathoff said.
Community shielding avoids some of the problems associated with
the conventional responses of evacuation or quarantine. “Evacuation
can widen an epidemic. If the weapon is contagious, the fleeing
people become bioweapons,” Saathoff said.
vaccination programs can cause sickness themselves, and not everyone
will agree to be immunized. Another possibility is that people might
mob immunization centers after an attack. Some 35,000 people wanted
anthrax vaccination after the attack in which 23 cases were actually
identified,” he noted. Forced quarantine is authoritarian
and would probably require troops to enforce it.
attack by a contagious bioterror agent is clearly a crisis. An unprepared
public and/or a government response that is seen to be aggressively
enforcing quarantine rather than facilitating shielding could cause
a crisis to devolve into catastrophe. The economic repercussions
of such a catastrophe would be enormous, obviously,” Sathoff
citizens are prepared to stay at home until told it is safe to leave,
roads would stay free of traffic so emergency services could be
provided and, if necessary, people downwind could be evacuated.
Like a quarantine, shielding helps stop the spread of disease, Saathoff
shielding depends on and strengthens democracy,” he said.
“Voluntary programs help build trust in the government’s
response, but they won’t work if we wait for an attack to
make the community shielding plan known. There is no widely accepted
script now for how to react to a bio attack. Localities need to
make local plans.”
idea’s primary drawback would be that people in an infected
area could feel trapped and perhaps doomed, Bonnie said. Preplanning
is required so that people feel that shielding is voluntary, not
imposed, and that they have assurances of assistance should they
happen to be in an infected area. Distrust is the single greatest
obstacle to the success of a shield strategy, he said.
society is better set up to incorporate shielding than it has ever
been in the past,” said Saathoff. “With current package
delivery systems, developing home schooling culture, home office
proliferation and communications infrastructure, our homes are potentially
more equipped for a shielding program than they have ever been.
Shielding is not only an opportunity to protect one's family but
also, and perhaps most importantly, a way for a community to collectively
‘break the back’ of a bioterror epidemic. People need
to know in advance, though, that it can actually be tremendously
patriotic to remain in one's home rather than to evacuate.”
concept of homeland defense should include the development of community
shielding programs that raise public awareness of biological, chemical
and radiological threats and how to prepare for their possibility,
CIAG is a group of experts from law enforcement, intelligence, medicine
and public health, academia and the media. It was created in 1997
to monitor the tension between critical incidents and Americans’
constitutional rights. The group has studied terrorist threats abroad,
bioterrorism, threats against symbols of American democracy and
homeland security issues.
Gregory Saathoff, (434) 243-9467 or Richard Bonnie, (434) 924-3209
contact: Fariss Samarrai, (434) 924-3778