“The risk of a biological terrorist attack to America is an urgent and serious threat,” McSally, an Air Force veteran, told the subcommittee hearing last week. “Our nation’s capacity to prevent, respond to and mitigate the impacts of biological terror incidents is a top national security priority.”
The subcommittee discussed the potential for bioterrorism in the U.S., particularly with the rise of extremist regimes such as ISIS. McSally and others spoke about the lack of central command when the U.S. was responding to the threat of Ebola last year, according to Foreign Policy.
Hospitals across the U.S. responded with new protocols to handle fevers and other symptoms of people who had traveled in the West African nations where the outbreaks were occurring throughout the year. Four cases were diagnosed within the U.S. over the course of the response, and one person died.
Leonard Cole, a professor at Rutgers Medical School who has written extensively on biological and chemical warfare since the 1980s, told Foreign Policy magazine afterward that the national response was lackluster because of the lack of coordination – and the occasional contradictory federal and state directives.
For instance, the governors of New Jersey and California bucked Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and enacted longer quarantine periods. That was a failure, Cole said.
“Rule No. 1 is there has to be an orderly and consistent manner of informing the public,” he said.
Cole has written about how the 2001 anthrax attacks prepared the country for the concept of bioterrorism. But unfortunately, the U.S. remains underprepared, he said.
The Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications is expecting to examine the threat of bioterrorist attacks over the next few months – with special attention to ISIS and the situation in Syria.