Experts gather at symposium to discuss transportation and bioterrorism

On March 21, Emergent BioSolutions, Inc., hosted a symposium in Washington, D.C. on transportation and bioterrorism featuring governmental leaders, experts in urban emergency preparedness, disaster response and biological warfare.

Issues presented concerned the development of clear governmental focal points; the challenges faced by local, state, regional and national agencies; and the importance of prevention, detection and response. A particular emphasis was placed on retooling inner and outer communication practices, which is what occurs between governmental bodies and what occurs between governmental bodies and the public.

Henrich Hololei, head of cabinet for European Union Transportation Commissioner Silim Kallas, spoke about several challenges he faces, some of which are endemic to the E.U structure itself.

Hololei said that Europe faced transportation challenges in the wake of Iceland’s volcanic ash cloud. An individual nation could not open its own airspace without consent from the larger group, complicating efforts to jumpstart what then was a badly damaged economic reality.

“It is a complicated jigsaw,” Hololei said. “Issues in Europe are specific and multi-layered, yet at the end of the day, we want safe transportation systems. We want ways to stop bioterrorism, and, if something does occur, we want to save as many people as possible”.

How that might be done, and what should be avoided in the process, was Randy Larsen’s focus. A retired colonel who served in the Air Force for 32 years, Larsen is a commentator and adviser on national security issues, particularly large-scale threats like biological warfare.

Larsen said that rigorous cooperation between the public and private sector is needed. Citing the 27 percent of all cargo in America that travels on private airplanes as an example, he said that the notion of a government-only effort ignores private and public sector overlap. Focusing on approaches like these will save more lives in the long run, he said.

Terrorists are also less likely to attack nations with better emergency-capable infrastructures, Larsen said.

“The holes are too great, the dangerous elements to be smuggled in too small, those who wish us harm too many," Larsen said. "It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but one that will save this country millions – millions that can be better spent on things that really will work.”

Jerry Hauer, a former director of the Office of Emergency Management under Rudy Giuliani, and later an assistant secretary within the Department of Health and Human Services, referenced the need for new communication patterns among agencies and new communication outreaches to the public. He expressed concern that local and national governmental agencies often presented overly confident approaches to the complicated demands that arise after a grave emergency.

Hauer described the difficulty in communicating directly to those underground in the event of a biological attack as a transportation issue that can be fixed. He also warned of a more enigmatic problem.

“Even now, just a decade after 9/11, our level of vigilance has decreased," Hauer said. "Complacency is a problem. Hopefully it won’t take another event to remind people to be alert and watchful.”

The event, hosted by Emergent BioSolutions, Inc., reflects the company’s involvement in matters of government policy and disaster preparedness. Emergent BioSolutions, Inc., is the manufacturer of BioThrax, the only FDA-licensed vaccine for Anthrax.