Planners and policy makers have long discounted the publics ability to participate in a response to bioterrorism, because of a belief that an attack would create mass panic and social disorder.
However, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who reviewed the publics response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the recent anthrax mailings, and other disasters concluded that the public does not react with panic but with effective and adaptive action and can be an valuable response force and that should be considered in biodefense planning.
The study will appear in the January 15, 2001 edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases. In addition, the researchers recommend five guidelines for limiting panic and effectively managing the public during a bioterrorism attack.
The first recommendation for biodefense planners is to understand that public panic is rare and preventable. It is a myth that a communitys first response to a crisis is panic. Yet, bioterrorism contingency planners have too frequently incorporated the images of a hysterical or lawless mob in their discussions and response exercises.
They have made no efforts to capitalize upon the constructive reactions that tend to dominate community responses to crisis, as borne out by history, says Monica Schoch-Spana, PhD, the studys co-author and a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies. Although we do not know how people would respond in an unprecedented biological attack, we have found that people usually adapt to a situation based on the best information available and they often try to assist one another through a crisis, explains Dr. Schoch-Spana.
Dr. Schoch-Spana and her co-author, Thomas Glass, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, say leaders must provide timely accurate information and instructions during an attack so that the public can make
Contact: Tim Parsons or Ming Tai
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health