Bioterrorism Preparedness In Chattanooga

Thursday, July 18, 2002 - by Christina Siebold
Dr. David Ciraulo and Administrative Research Coordinator Christy Westmoreland. Click to enlarge all our photos.
Dr. David Ciraulo and Administrative Research Coordinator Christy Westmoreland. Click to enlarge all our photos.
- photo by Christina Siebold

The changing world scene has presented many new security challenges to our nation and to our city, according to Dr. David Ciraulo of UT’s College of Medicine.

In a speech to the Chattanooga Rotary Club, Dr. Ciraulo said that while national security was once threatened by “mutual assured destruction” during the Cold War, today the threat lies in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - whether biological, chemical, nuclear or incendiary.

Dr. Ciraulo said the terrorist risk for America comes from three directions - domestic, like the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh, international, like the attacks of September 11, and trans-national, where a foreign entity coordinates with an American group.

“Trans-national terrorism is a tricky and new form of terror where someone like Saddam Hussein would collaborate with a militia group in the United States,” Dr. Ciraulo said. “Some thought that the anthrax attack was a trans-national attack.”

Whatever the genesis of the anthrax attacks, they are classified as a biological attack. Since September 11, bioterrorism concerns have dominated the security and healthcare communities. But before the terrorist attacks, Dr. Ciraulo said, “The amount of interest in bioterrorism was next to none pre- 9-11.”

After September 11, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bioterrorism Committee was formed to coordinate a response to a biological attack or the ongoing threat of one. Dr. Ciraulo said the committee has more than a dozen sub-committees focusing on specific areas of concern.

In the event of a possible anthrax attack in Chattanooga, Dr. Ciraulo said that health care professionals should be properly educated about the risks to them and their patients.

“Anthrax doesn’t have a good kill ratio in military terms, but it causes devastating panic.”

Good communication can help control that panic, but during disasters, that can be the biggest challenge of all.

“Communication is probably the Achilles heel of any disaster event because cell phones and radios usually go down, like on 9-11,” Dr. Ciraulo said.

As a result, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bioterrorism Committee is investigating communications systems that would hold up in a disaster situation.

The Committee has also instituted a surveillance program to open communication between hospitals, public health officials and city leaders.

“We have people looking at our surveillance program as a possible prototype for other communities,” Dr. Ciraulo said.

Despite Chattanooga’s strides toward bioterrorism and weapons of mass destruction preparedness, Dr. Ciraulo cautions that there is still work to be done. He said Chattanooga may not be a major metropolitan area like New York or even Atlanta, but attacks must be anticipated.

“Just because we are a smaller satellite community, that does not mean there is no threat, and we have to be prepared.”


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