The United States is 'significantly underprepared' to deal with biological terrorism
The United States is "significantly underprepared" to deal with biological terrorism, former Senator Joe Lieberman said Wednesday in a press release.
That statement comes on the heels of a new report that evaluates just how ready the country is to respond to what the report describes as a "growing threat:" the use or modification of natural diseases caused by viruses and bacteria to infect large numbers of people on purpose.
Lieberman is the co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Defense, a bipartisan group that authored the report. The panel convened in 2014 to recommend ways for the country to step up preparations against potential disasters, which range from an Islamic State-released biological weapon to natural threats like Ebola or a dangerous flu.
The panel released their findings October 28, and they found "serious gaps and inadequacies" in current levels of preparation.
"We're not as prepared as we think we should be to deal with threats," former Governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, the panel's other co-chair, told Stat's Megan Thielking.
The biggest problem the experts cite in their executive summary is the lack of a central plan or leader for dealing with any sort of biological threat. This, they argue, has led to patchwork preparation, where some precautions are in place, but there's no sort of coordinated response plan for the kinds of problem that would call for just that: a perfectly coordinated effort to shut down the spread of a dangerous illness before it gets worse.
Here are a few other reasons they say are causes for concern:
- A lack of biosafety procedures at national research institutions. This has led to situations where dangerous substances were left in an unsafe place, including when vials of smallpox were found just sitting in a Food and Drug Administration freezer.
- Biosecurity problems may have increased the risk of bioterror. The 2001 anthrax attacks occurred after anthrax was illicitly removed from the US Army Medical Research Institute on Infectious Disease.
- Globalization has led to the rapid spread of emerging diseases. These include Dengue fever and Chikungunya, for example, as well as other diseases that we have no protection for, could rapidly emerge, and subsequently devastate lives and agriculture.
- Scientific advances and synthetic biology. It's easier than ever to create deadly and dangerous biological weapons, for which we have no known treatment.
So how does the US resolve these weaknesses? The group has a 33-point blueprint of recommendations for ways to "urgently" adapt to these threats, starting with creating a centralized group led by the Vice President.
"Unfortunately, biological threats are not given the same level of attention as are other threats, leaving us significantly underprepared," Lieberman said in the press release. "[B]ut this does not have to be the case."
You can read the full report here.