Allen Shofe, the senior vice president of corporate affairs at Emergent Biosolutions, Inc., made a presentation on Thursday entitled “Bio-Terrorism – The US Experience” at the CBRNE Asia Pacific Conference in Singapore.
Shofe discussed the myths of bioterrorism, the chain of how bioterrorism occurs, the timeline of the 2001 anthrax attacks, the lessons learned from the attacks and more recent events related to anthrax.
The five myths of bioterrorism that Shofe discussed included that it is too difficult for terrorists to prevail with bioterrorism, that terrorists prefer bombs, that the capabilities of biological weapons are greatly exaggerated, that there is no intelligence information available on terrorists and their bioweapons programs, and that there is nothing that we can do to stop them.
According to Shofe, the terrorists have the intent and the capability to produce weapons of bioterrorism, the population is vulnerable and the consequences of such an attack would be catastrophic.
Shofe recounted the U.S. anthrax letter attacks of 2001, in which letters containing anthrax spores were mailed on two separate dates in September and October. The initial cases were not recognized as anthrax. There were 22 cases in total with five fatalities. Hundreds of people were also evaluated to rule out the disease, with 30,000 advised to take antibiotics, 10,000 of which were told to take them for at least 60 days.
Shofe said that the lessons from 2001 included that local officials need to know who is in charge and that the networks must be strengthened between all jurisdictions. There must be integration of tactical and operational strategies along with information technology support. Laboratories must have the capacity to respond to surges and personnel must have the ability to cope with the event.
The threat of anthrax is still pervasive, as a package of anthrax was sent to the home of Pakistan’s prime minister in October. It marked the first time terrorists had used the biological agent in a government attack in the country since approximately the same time as the U.S. attacks, the Telegraph reports.
Shofe said that preparedness was of the utmost importance and that officials must learn to respond instead of react. The United States must also build resilience to respond to such attacks more effectively in the future, Shofe said.
The CBRNE Asia Pacific Conference is one of the major events on CBRNE terrorism in the Asia Pacific region and it includes a large gathering of military and government officials as well as industry experts. The event concludes on Friday at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.