Homeland Security Blues


When I scan the papers for how the feds, state and locals are dealing with terrorist CBRN [Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear] incidents, I cringe. We seem to swing from pandering to our worst fears to get a few more bucks to blind rote repetition in hazard response that doesn't match logic to the threat. Here's a few examples that I hope are not typical, but I wonder...hazmat suit.jpgIn Denver, there was a "white powder" scare on Sunday - actually, it wasn't even a powder scare, it was a number of capsules holding a yellow powder which were delivered to a bank. It tested positive for a biological organism (protein) but not anthrax. There was no threat in the envelope, no return address, no visible signs of ill effects on the employees handling the mail. So of course the locals did the routine thing - quarantine the seven bank employees and the police officer who answered the 911 call, call the feds, let the WMD Civil Support Team confirm it's not anthrax, and strip and wash the employees in the bank's parking lot. Yep - routine.

But as a precaution, the employees were scrubbed in a puffy orange tent and sent home in a hazardous- materials suit because the substance was still unknown Sunday evening. One of the female employees cried on her way out of the decontamination tent, where she was required to strip naked and get scrubbed down by a hazardous-materials team.The police officer also was decontaminated because he came in contact with the employees when he answered the 911 call.
Okay, is it asking too much for someone - between FEMA, the FBI, the Army (assuming the 20th SUPCOM), the WMD CST, and the Denver firefighters and hazmat team - to think, hmmm, doesn't test out as a BW agent or any typical white/yellow powder, no weird messages in the envelope, maybe we don't have to recreate the decon scene from "Silkwood" for what is probably a false alarm and obviously not a chemical or radiological hazard that might cause an acute lethal reaction. Idiots.Let's flash over to Kansas City, where Kansas State University is planning to open up a Bio-Security Research Institute, which will study food safety. About $54 million is being invested in the facility. The university has a program called "Making America Safer" which includes several projects funded by DHS. They're looking forward to helping...
Now, under the centers purview, hundreds of researchers and students are engaged in projects aimed at keeping America safe. The center works with the departments of Agriculture, Defense and Justice and other federal, state and local agencies to facilitate an effective strategy for rapid response to emerging agricultural threats, Vanier said.The center is even developing plans for training police and firefighters who would be early responders in the event of a bioterrorist attack.
No, it's not the scientists' job to limit or halt bioterrorism attacks, contrary to the article's cheery tone. Intelligence professionals find out where the terrorists are and counterterrorism units grab the bad guys. All the scientists do is preach how deadly the bugs are and why they need more money to research the hazards. Although I should take it easy on K-State's associate vice provost for research and compliance, Jerry Jaax - he paid his dues as an Army MRIID doc working at the Reston Ebola breakout in 1989 - he's still a typical medic: "a bioterrorism attack could cripple the agricultural-based economy of the [Kansas] region. Jaax said a 'significant risk' of such an attack does exist." Yadda yadda. Where's the intel assessment?Last, let's jump up to the Fed level. ABC News gets Richard Clarke (its paid consultant) and the FBI's WMD Division to hype up the spinach E. coli incident into a potential agro-terrorism incident.
Government investigators say there's no evidence linking the current E. coli outbreak in which tainted spinach has caused at least 171 known cases in 25 states, according to the FDA to terrorism. But those same investigators are keenly aware that America's food supply is vulnerable to attack. An international meeting on how to fight agro-terrorism starts Monday in Kansas City.Government agencies have held mock exercises to see what would happen if the food supply was compromised. The results were catastrophic."What happened was utter chaos," said Sen. Patrick Roberts, R-Kan. "We lost almost the entire livestock herd of the United States, all export stock. We had panic at the grocery stores."
What a shock. A national exercise which went for the "worst case scenario" route to test the leadership responses, despite all lack of any evidence of a current terrorist threat and the complete lack of any past history of agro-terrorism. But it justifies the USDA's research bills.Is it too much to ask for some sanity? Some logic and common sense? Natural disasters, accidents and indigenous diseases are still the major killers out there, people. I'm not against some funds for countering CBRN terrorism - it pays my bills - but certainly we could be spending it smarter, and more importantly, talking about the topic more intelligently.UPDATE: Offices in Denver got four "anthrax" envelopes Monday - some copycat with a sick sense of humor. We need FEMA or the state EOCs to develop procedures that will minimize panic and not automatically go to four-alarm mode, assuming that every white powder is anthrax unless otherwise proven. These hoaxes and false alarms are going to continue - better figure out a sane way to face that fact.-- Jason Sigger, crossposted at Armchair Generalist
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