A bill introduced today by the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee’s Chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), and its ranking Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), offers several initiatives to improve the government’s information and planning for the public in the event of a terrorist attack from weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
“The Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009″ aims to implement the recommendations of the Congressionally-mandated WMD Commission which released its report, “World At Risk” last year in an effort to help the nation prevent and prepare for terrorist attacks from biological weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The Lieberman/Collins legislation would:
· Require DHS to designate the most dangerous pathogens which have significant potential to be used effectively in a biological attack.
· Require DHS to set new security standards for labs using the most dangerous pathogens, including risk assessments, personnel reliability programs, and staff training.
· Require a national strategy for dispensing antibiotics and other medicines to the public and expand a pilot program for using the Postal Service to dispense them.
· Require communications plans to convey instructions to the public – including whether to evacuate or shelter-in-place – in the critical moments after an attack.
· Support a National Bioforensics Analysis Center to identify the perpetrator of a WMD attack rapidly.
· Provide personal medical kits to emergency responders in order to enable them to respond quickly to a WMD attack without jeopardizing their own safety.
· Require DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to provide better terrorism threat and risk assessments to the public.
· Promote citizen and community preparedness for WMD attacks, including by authorizing grants to States.
WMD Commission’s report put a special emphasis on the public’s role in WMD preparedness. In fact, The report’s final chapter, titled “The Role of the Citizen”, recommends that “the next administration must work to openly and honestly engage the American citizen, encouraging a participatory approach to meeting the challenges of the new century.”
Commission Co-Chair Bob Graham told me in an interview that educating Americans on the threat of WMD’s should be an “urgent” priority. Part of that education process I believe is to further explain the term WMD and how some threats would cause far more destruction than others. I think this legislation is an important part of a new effort to improve the nation’s citizen preparedness and engagement, and I will be following its progress closely.