significant failure. Further, there is not yet a plan to vaccinate hospital and emergency workers in a single day.

My August 2002 paper describes the effectiveness of nonspecific measures to counter a smallpox epidemic.68 Smallpox is not among the most highly communicable diseases. Experience with natural epidemics indicates that each smallpox victim infects about three others. Hence, 1,000 primary cases would grow in 2 weeks to 3,000. Two weeks later that number would grow to 9,000, and so on. If the transmission could be reduced by a factor of 4 – to an average of 0.75 secondary cases per primary case – even if there were no other treatment, 1,000 primary cases would result in a total of 4,000 cases altogether, rather than in tens or hundreds of millions of deaths.

Society need not set up quarantine or other barriers routinely, but they should be available if an outbreak of smallpox (or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome [SARS]) occurs, at the first sign of a significant number of cases. This would do nothing for the primary victims, but it would keep a tragedy from becoming a disaster by limiting the infection to a multiple of the initial cases, compared with the potential millions of victims of a fulminating epidemic.

In order to achieve this level of containment there must be analysis and planning. In addition, implementation of a plan would require action by much of society. This can only be achieved by the distribution of action messages via radio and particularly television. The Internet is an excellent distribution medium in the United States because it provides data on demand; following an alert, anyone with Internet access would be able to access and print the information relevant to their locality. In instances of biological terrorism, a radiological dispersal incident, or the release of toxic material, the channels for distribution of warning and action information to the public are not inherently affected. Simultaneous attacks on the Internet and the power grid would, however, amplify greatly the impact of biological weapons, radiological dispersed devices, or chemical attack.

EPILOGUE

Science and technology specific to countering terrorism includes the means of ensuring premature detonation of explosives or of inhibiting the triggering of explosives. Most science and technology counterterrorism tools are highly useful for public health, law enforcement, or general intelligence purposes. Much science and technology now useful for counterterrorism is embodied in systems in general use, such as the media of mass and selective communications. Science and technology cannot eliminate the problem of terrorism, but they can help in opposing it.

68

“Nuclear and Biological Megaterrorism”



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement