A top Department of Homeland Security Department official said yesterday that the U.S. has “to start thinking very seriously about what we would actually do the day after [a biological or nuclear] attack” and explain to the public that we could recover from such an incident.
The speech was reported in an article by Martin Matishak on the Global Security Newswire:
While preventing a strike involving an unconventional weapon is “absolutely to be preferred, we do have to start thinking very seriously about what we would actually do the day after an attack,” Tara O’Toole, the department’s undersecretary for science and technology, said during an event at the University of California’s Washington campus.
“We could recover from an improvised nuclear device attack but to mitigate the death and suffering and the economic and social consequences we have to … start equating the American public with the notion we could recover,” she told the audience. Advance preparation “is something that we have to take seriously and is a very difficult point to sell to Congress, particularly in these highly pressured economic times,” according to O’Toole. ”God knows these preparations must be affordable,” she added.
A bipartisan group of members of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee will introduce a bill tomorrow to implement the recommendations of the WMD Commission. The legislation will aim to improve U.S. efforts to prevent, deter, detect, and respond to a WMD attack. In its final report, the Commission emphasized the need to educate the public on these threats along the lines that O’Toole mentioned in her speech.
The article continues:
Today, the government’s responses to a nuclear or biological attack contain many similar elements. They call for the federal government to be in charge of the response and include immediate measures like medical attention for the sick and injured and detection of the source of the attack to properly training first responders to operate within a contaminated area. Longer-term issues include decontamination of the impacted zone….
Earlier this year, the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism gave the Obama administration an “F” grade for bioterrorism defense, saying the United States does not have the capability to rapidly recognize, respond to and recover from a disease-based attack (see GSN, Jan. 26). Last week, the Justice Department inspector general reported that the the agency’s WMD response efforts are severely lacking.
O’Toole said the government has a “better shot” at preventing a nuclear attack than its disease-spreading counterpart.”The difficulty of detecting, interdicting and attributing biological attacks is very, very serious and we have to, particularly in the realm of biological weapons, be prepared to respond to these attacks,” she said, referring to pursuing the perpetrators of a possible strike….
O’Toole said there are several myths in Washington about biological terrorism, including that it is too hard to prepare for; that an attack would be similar in scope to the 2001 anthrax mailings; and that infection could be countered using the antibiotic ciprofloxacin.