Terrorism expert: World is not ready for biological threats

The Western world -- or anyone for that matter -- is not "prepared to deal with biological issues, let alone (terrorist) attacks like the ones that recently happened," Dr. Yohan Alexander, director of the Inter University Center for Terrorism Studies, recently told BioPrep Watch.

To address this lack of preparedness, Alexander and the Blue Ribbon Panel Study on Biodefense released the 33-point list of recommendations for a domestic biodefense blueprint in October, identifying key areas for reform, primarily involving leadership and collaboration. 

The report explains that there is no directed leadership, strategy or budget allocated for biodefense, which makes the U.S., as well as other countries, vulnerable.

“Our tendency is to respond after the fact rather than take serious steps toward real prevention prior to them," Alexander said.

Part of the study offered recommendations for planning and centralizing leadership for American biodefense through coordination, collaboration and innovation.

The recommendations include institutionalizing biodefense in the Office of the Vice President, establishing a Biodefense Coordination Council in the White House, unifying a biodefense budget and developing a “21st century-worthy” environmental detection system.

“Biological terrorism is different because we cannot see it,” which makes it more lethal than we can imagine, Alexander told BioPrep Watch.

Though anthrax has been cited as being one of the biggest bioterror agents, Alexander explained that there are many different threats, “like fungi, bacteria, small pox, yellow fever and ebola. Biological and chemical agents, like ricin, can be produced in laboratories. Even poisoning the water system has been around since the beginning of civilization.”

Terrorist organizations are starting to create mass destruction with labs; and when these viruses are manufactured, there is an entirely different scale of destruction compared to a more organic outbreak, Alexander warned. 

“I wish we didn’t have to face this reality, but it is wishful thinking," he said. "We need to wake up.”

Alexander suggested that strong leadership is imperative, along with support from the scientific community, businesses, universities and everyday citizens. This leadership and support would make preparation for such attacks more effective. 

“Each segment of the population must play a role,” Alexander said. “That is our biggest challenge."

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Inter University Center for Terrorism Studies 901 North Stuart Street Arlington, VA 22203

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