'Dark Winter'- U.S.Unprepared for Bioterrorist Attack

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Invisible Enemy Simulation Shows U.S. Unprepared for Bioterrorist Attack

By John Yang

W A S H I N G T O N, July 23 — Lawmakers in Washington were dramatically reminded today that the United States has a lot to do if it wants to be ready for a bioterrorist attack.

Last month at Andrews Air Force Base, former and current government officials participated in a simulation designed to see how the United States might respond to a smallpox attack. The result was not encouraging. The officials simulated a hypothetical scenario in which 20 cases of smallpox were confirmed in Oklahoma City, Okla., with more suspected in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

In a room on the base, officials gathered as a makeshift National Security Council, with former Sen. Sam Nunn playing the role of the president.

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating played himself, joining the meeting on the pretext that he happened to be in Washington when a bioterrorist crisis erupted in his state.

Who's in Charge Here?

Nunn started out by asking his "advisers" about smallpox and public health. The answers were grim: There is no cure for the highly contagious disease, and only enough vaccine in the United States for 12 million people.

As they tried to limit the outbreak, tensions quickly arose between health officials and the military over issues such as who would be vaccinated. Federal and local authorities squabbled over who was in charge.

As governor, Keating ordered the closure of the airports and all roads in and out of the state. But there was confusion over whether he had the authority to make such a move. "One of the generals from the federal family said, 'What authority do you have to do that?,'" Keating recalled later. "And I said, 'I just did it.'"

The participants did not succeed in containing the highly contagious disease. They were soon told the outbreak had spread to 25 states, and 300,000 people would be infected within two months.

"It was one of those situations that got more horrific as more information rolled out," Keating told ABCNEWS.

…Lessons Learned

While the details of the smallpox outbreak were hypothetical, the participants say they came away with very real lessons on the threat of bioterrorism.

"The enemy is invisible, the enemy is insidious and spreading everywhere, and you don't know how to contain it, you don't have the tools," Nunn said. "I would like to tell you that the people sitting around the table were just amateurs … but these are the real players and these are the people who have the knowledge," he added. "I can say without any question, this country is not prepared."

The participants in the simulation, dubbed "Dark Winter," told a House subcommittee today about their experience.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 23, 2001


US Vulnerable to Bioterror Attack, Exercise Shows July 23, 2001 7:29 pm EST

By Letitia Stein WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A simulation exercise in June to test the government's response to a biological weapons attack with smallpox virus showed U.S. authorities woefully unprepared, experts told Congress on Monday.

"This would cripple the United States if it were to occur," John Hamre of the Center for Strategic and International Studies testified before the Committee on Government Reform in the House of Representatives.

"No city, no state is capable of dealing with an incident like this," added Hamre, who was deputy secretary of defense under former President Bill Clinton.

The theoretical exercise, dubbed "Dark Winter", was based on a realistic scenario.

The exercise ended with more than 1,000 people dead and 15,000 reported smallpox cases -- all simulated -- less than two weeks after 24 "patients" first showed signs of an undiagnosed illness at an Oklahoma hospital. The simulation ended with no resolution to the "epidemic."

Current and former government officials convened at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland during the two-day exercise to respond to the crisis playing the roles of National Security Council members.

Participants found that government officials at the federal and local levels, as well as the U.S. medical community, were ill-prepared.

Smallpox is a highly contagious disease last seen in the United States in 1949. Vaccination ceased in 1972, leaving current generations of Americans with no immunity to the disease.

Supplies of the vaccination are far less than needed in a national catastrophe and it would take weeks to make enough to deal with an emergency, the experts said. In the exercise, rioting and looting broke out when vaccinations ran out.

Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating told Congress a major problem arose from the unclear division of duties between federal officials and local emergency responders.

"I was really surprised by the level of ignorance, if not prejudice, against state and local responders," Keating said.

"To have a whole panoply of federal officials descend on a city won't work," he said.

Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut said the results concerned him more than the threat of a rogue missile attack. "I found myself feeling very uneasy," he said.

Shays said planning for a bioterrorist attack should take precedence over the national missile defense system widely promoted by the Bush administration.

"If you told me I only had the dollars for one, there's no question that I would put my dollars here," he said.

http://www.iwon.com/home/news/news_article/0,11746,147784|politics|07- 23-2001::19:33|reuters,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 23, 2001.

The Tom Clancy novel, Executive Orders, has an interesting exercise in biowarfare using a marginally airborne version of the Ebola virus. The terrorists release the virus at conventions and trade shows, which is apparently a common and highly effective tactic. The scenario was obviously drawn from a wargame exercise -- Clancy is a fanatic for wargaming. Even using a disease that is relatively tough to catch, the only solution was to shut down the country and seal all state borders. With something as virulent as smallpox released into an unprotected and highly mobile population, I'm not sure even those draconian measures would be a solution. And what would be the result for other nations, such as Mexico or India?

-- Cash (Cash@andcarry.com), July 24, 2001.

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