WASHINGTON -- Improving the ability of the nation's civilian medical community to respond to a chemical or biological terrorist attack requires more than simply providing cities with military training and equipment, according to a new report from a committee of the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. The committee identified more than 60 research and development projects as potentially useful in minimizing the damage caused by a terrorist attack, including new drugs and vaccines to combat anthrax and smallpox, faster and easier-to-use chemical detectors and diagnostic tests, and communications software to improve disease surveillance and to provide information about possible attacks.
"Although preparing for and responding to terrorism is a daunting challenge, it is not an insurmountable one," said committee chair Peter Rosen, director of the emergency medical residency program at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine. "By bolstering existing medical resources, improving communications, and developing better ways to monitor and detect threats, we can minimize the damage that a terrorist attack in the United States could cause."
Preparations for biological or chemical terrorism should build on systems already in place to handle hazardous materials spills, infectious disease outbreaks, and natural disasters, the report says. Because of their work in these areas, public health departments, poison control centers, and metropolitan police officials are best equipped to handle the challenges posed by terrorism. These entities must adapt new and emerging technologies for detecting chemical and biological warfare agents. They especially need faster, simpler, cheaper, and more accurate tools for detecting and identifying a wide spectrum of toxic substances that could be used in an attack.