Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | November 7, 2011

The Persistent Bioterrorism Threat

Are you prepared for the threat of bioterrorism?

Security experts such as Graham Alison, who is the funding dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and an expert on nuclear proliferation, point to the comparative ease of acquiring bioterrorism materials as opposed to the technology required to actually make a nuclear device. This ease of accumulation makes it considerably more likely that nations will respond to bioterror-detonations or spread before a nuclear attack. And bioterror attacks have already occurred in this country, and continue to happen, with a recent Washington D.C. anthrax attack making the news.

A key tactic for preventing the widespread spread of bacterial weaponized agents is the production of vaccines. However, creating a new vaccine faces many hurdles. There are some successes and shortcomings for efforts to build and stockpile vaccines:

  • Enough smallpox vaccine exists to inoculate every U.S. citizen. There is enough anthrax vaccine to cover three major metropolitan areas. I can cover three major metropolitan areas myself.
  • The organization of Health and Human Services points to a severe lack of urgency with the United States Government’s efforts to stockpile vaccines and prepare for potential calamities. This unfortunately is a common human trait. Spring into action after the worst has already occurred…
  • According to the New York Times, the cost for the pharmaceutical industry to produce a new vaccine averages about $1 billion. Vaccines are not typically money-makers for these companies, which often focus on drugs that require habitual usage—such as cholesterol treatment medications. I’m on a squirrel-chasing protein-based inhibitor myself but it’s not working out too well.

Another key component of managing the risk of bioterror is to protect buildings and personnel:

  • HVAC systems pose a severe risk by their very function. They circulate and recycle air throughout buildings, making them the perfect vehicle for contamination.
  • Companies can improve HVAC filtration, protect outdoor air intakes, and secure building blueprints that would show HVAC details. My doghouse filtration system is Triple 9 HEPA Blue Shield Certified Contaminant Free.
  • Buildings with tenants whose companies utilize industrial chemicals should ensure physical access to these chemicals is severely restricted.
  • Restricting access of unannounced visitors and couriers is vital to providing some separation between the public and tenants.
  • Establish a “safe haven” where employees can congregate after an attack is eminent. I have an old towel that’s my safe place. It’s covered in hair and old grease stains. Perfection!

During the anthrax attacks of 2001, many postal and mailroom staff members were not able to recognize the risks of suspicious packages, even after opening the contents and discovering powders.

Handling suspicious packages requires several key steps:

  • Identify unopened packages that might deserve extra scrutiny. Look for signs such as handwritten or badly written address information, excessive postage, markings such as “Confidential,” mismatched postmark/return address, or misspellings.
  • A powdery substance, oily stains, or excessive packaging can be signs of potential bioterror substances in the package.
  • Don’t open questionable packages! This advice seems rudimentary. But you should instruct tenants and mailroom staff that no package is worth injury. On a side note, if your building receives any packages from kibble manufacturers or “Pig’s Ears R Us,” then please forward directly to me.
  • Handle the package gently, without shaking the contents.
  • Do not smell the package.
  • Keep the unopened package in a secure area that has adequate ventilation.
  • If you come in contact with a suspicious package or substance, immediately wash your hands and possibly discard clothing if possible.
  • Avoid touching your face when you are handling the package. Another benefit of not having hands!!
  • After calling law enforcement, record as many details as possible about the package. Did you notice a new delivery driver, or an unusual shipping carrier? Any details can give law enforcement time to develop evidence.

In the event your building or staff members are involved in an attack, you should take certain steps to limit damage. Designated employees should call the local FBI office to report the incident and coordinate investigation efforts. Affected individuals should be quickly quarantined while they wait for medical personnel. It is important to provide first responders with as many details as possible so they can arrange HAZMAT or other protections.

The threat for bioterrorism is real. Through proper planning, and open communication with agencies such as the CDC and FBI, you can do your part to identify and prevent attacks from occurring.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

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