There are some that claim the hysteria caused by the possibility of a biological attack is much more damaging than the attack itself. Like other terrorist attacks, it would be difficult to harm a major portion of the U.S. population with a single attack. A response through vaccines would quickly be initiated, as well as any other means necessary to control the spread of the disease caused by the agent, up to and including quarantine. It is unlikely that the biological agent would spread through the entire population unchecked.
However, the hysteria and fear generated by the attack would spread through the entire population quickly (Valdes, 2005). There are some that say U.S. efforts towards the mitigation of the threat or effects of an attack of a biological agent are a waste of money. They claim that the methods of delivering such an agent are difficult to pull off and that our response to such an attack is so efficient that the threat is greatly reduced. In addition, they claim that are methods of detection are advanced enough that we should be considered paranoid in our efforts to mitigate the threat. The question is if they are right, or if our efforts are not enough in reality, and we need to increase our efforts in the detection and mitigation of the effects of a biological attack on the population.
Biological weapons may be difficult to produce and even more difficult do develop into a form that can be easily dispersed throughout the population. Dumping bacteria into a salad bar will only affect a very small segment of the population. Casualties could range in the 100s or 1000s locally, but as we found out from the SARS epidemic, diseases can quickly spread through vectors that are results of the world in which we live. It is possible for a disease to enter another country through airports from a person that does not yet appear to be ill. Therefore, it is possible for a disease to quickly become out of hand through the vectors of public transportation and public places. The question should not be if we are wasting our money to mitigate a threat that is not real, but rather if we are doing enough to protect the public and possibly the entire global population.
The question is whether preparedness is ever a waste of money. To answer this question, one must refer to the historical record. Bioagents have successfully been used to win wars in the past. The use of bioagents has strong historical precedent, even into recent times. The mass hysteria caused by the use of bioagents is difficult to argue. Even if a small attack were to occur, the impact on the general population would be great. The bombings of the World Trade Towers taught us at least that much. People were affected who are not even involved or near the incident.
Fear and hysteria are the result of a lack of knowledge, or a feeling that one cannot control the situation. From this standpoint, research and development in detection and education regarding what to do in the case of an attack are some of the most valuable defenses. In elementary school we did drills just in case of a fire or other natural disaster. This had the effect of calming the students so that they would proceed in an orderly fashion if the real event were to ever occur. For many, the possibility of a fire was remote in their mindset and many considered it silly. However, in the cases where a fire actually occurred in a school, lives were saved because the students had a plan and did not panic. The same can be said for the U.S. And its intensive effort for preparation in the event of a bioagent attack. If the people are prepared and know what steps will be taken, should it ever occur, the terrorist will not be as likely to succeed in their intended goal of producing panic.
Should a bioagent be used in the United States, as it already was once in the past, the situation can be controlled much more effectively through emergency planning and preparation efforts. If the population knows steps they can take to prevent the spread of the agent and how to protect themselves and their family, the more quickly the situation can be brought under control. This reduces the likelihood of having to use drastic measures like quarantines or shutting down the infrastructure. From this standpoint, any efforts that are undertaken by the government to mitigate the effects of a bioagent attack cannot be considered unreasonable, even under the most liberal of viewpoints. Preparation is the key to the ability to act properly and mitigate risk in the event of any emergency situation, regardless of the cause.
Dennis, T., Wang, K., & Suppes, L. (n.d.) "A History of Bioterrorism." Retrieved from http://people.uwec.edu/piercech/Bio/Examples.htm
Valdes, J. (2005). "Biological Agents: Threat. Preparedness, and Myths." Security Studies
Program Seminar. December 7, 2005. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/ssp/seminars/wed_archives05fall/valdes.htm
Wyatt-Lorenz. (2009). "Bioterrorism Defense and Immediate Warning System." Wyatt-Lorenz,
LLC. Retrieved from http://www.wyatt-lorenz.com/