. "Preventing Catastrophic Consequences of Bioterrorism in an Urban Setting." Terrorism: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Improving Responses: U.S - Russian Workshop Proceedings. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.
The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
Terrorism: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Improving Responses - U.S.-Russian Workshop Proceedings
The most vulnerable points in a large city include the subway system, shopping centers, stadiums, mass gatherings at holidays and festivals, and grocery stores. Terrorist acts could lead to massive casualties because the use of a bioagent could go unnoticed during its entire latency period (usually 7–14 days).
Example 1: Just 1 g of anthrax spores represents 10 million lethal doses. Unless antibiotics are administered before the first symptoms appear, the mortality rate from anthrax could reach 85–90 percent. The simultaneous release of anthrax in several subway stations (perhaps by throwing a packet of spores in the path of a train arriving in the station), further dispersed with the aid of air currents produced by the movement of the trains, could under conditions existing in Moscow lead to the infection of several million people. Furthermore, taking into account the flow of passengers through Moscow to other regions, infected individuals would simultaneously appear at the end of the latency period in almost all regions of Russia. The result would be a general catastrophe, panic, and great difficulty in determining the source of the infection. Given current capabilities for detecting pathogens in air samples, such a scenario is completely possible.
Example 2: Anthrax spores could be dispersed using flares or fireworks set off during crowded holiday events (at stadiums, on New Year’s Eve, at public festivals, and so forth). Such fireworks could also be set off on the roofs of tall buildings with the help of remote-control devices. To prevent such occurrences, the use of low-temperature explosive devices (fireworks and flares) by private individuals could be banned, and much tighter controls on the organization of large public events could be instituted.
Example 3: Let us reconsider the situation involving the use of anthrax spores, as this bioagent is the most accessible to potential terrorists and does not require complex technologies for acquisition and use. In this case, the scenario would involve the use of pilotless aircraft. The simplest would be helium-filled balloons, which are common at all public festivals. A floating balloon with a toy dangling from it would not attract anyone’s suspicions; meanwhile, this “toy” could be a container dispersing spores. Taking into account wind direction, such a delivery device could infect tens of thousands of people (at stadiums, squares, festivals, amusement parks, and so forth), and the individual committing this terrorist act would face no risk in doing so.
Even these very simple examples demonstrate how vulnerable the modern city is. It is clear that even if the source and transmission path of the infection are discovered, decontamination measures (cleaning of the subway or parts of the city) could paralyze the operation of the city’s infrastructure for a long time.
In addition to the creation of possible attack scenarios, systems for the early detection of the most likely dangerous bioagents will become a very important element in the system for countering bioterrorism. Critical characteristics of such systems include sensitivity, processing time, and reliability (absence of false positive signals), as well as the number of agents that can be identified. The need for widespread utilization of such devices requires that they must be capable of