Preparation by responders, citizens necessary for biosafety

Leonard Cole, the co-author of "Local Planning for Terror and Disaster: From Bioterrorism to Earthquakes," said on Monday that lessons learned from countries such as Israel can help the U.S. plan for bioterrorism.

Cole, the director of the program on terror medicine and security at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's Center for BioDefense, said that terror medicine combines aspects of emergency medicine, disaster medicine and security. The concept of terror medicine borrows greatly from experiences dealt with in countries like Israel that were forced to develop a new style of disaster management after more than 100 suicide bombings in the 2000s.

"If you're going to get to a scene where there's been a suicide bomber, you don't just do things on the scene that you'd do for an automobile accident," Cole said. "You have to help people, move people out quickly and move them to a hospital, but you also have to be prepared for the possibility of a secondary attack or explosion, which the Israelis dealt with on several occasions."

Cole compared the need for a change in tactics related to suicide bombers to the responsibilities of first responders during the U.S. anthrax attacks in 2001. While law enforcement officers might have wanted to keep the scene of the crime intact for investigative purposes, medical officials likely wanted to get in as quickly as possible to get patients to the hospital, regardless of crime scene integrity.

Terror medicine has four main aspects - preparedness, incident management, nature of the injury, and response and psychological effect. For the U.S. to improve in all four areas, it must participate in necessary drills, learn how to improve communication between law enforcement and medical responders in terrorist situations, develop a protocol for what types of injuries to look for first in a bioterrorism scenario, and create a system for how to deal with the psychological effects of a terrorist attack.

Cole and co-author Nancy Connell show how the U.S. can make these changes with detailed case studies and stories related to terrorist attacks including the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the 2005 bombing in London and the 2004 Madrid bombing. Cole said that if officials can learn to understand the field of bioterrorism better, more effective plans and protocols can be developed.

Cole suggests that the government adopt a more formalized program to educate people about the possibility of terrorism attacks and disasters of any kind. Once again, he pulls from the lessons Israel learned in dealing with terrorism.

"In Israel, a seven- or eight-year-old kid in a playground sees a package in a playground, goes to a teacher or older person and tells them, in the same way that kids in the U.S. don't cross the street," Cole said. "There's no great threat in informing people that in some circumstances, you have an obligation to perform in a certain ways, such as mentioning something suspicious to an authority figure. This is not the pre-1990s when we weren't thinking about things like terrorism. We have to think of these things now."

In addition to Cole and Connell, multiple other writers in the book discuss the applications of terror medicine practices in the U.S., whether the disaster is an anthrax attack or an earthquake.

"Local Planning for Terror and Disaster: From Bioterrorism to Earthquakes" is currently available for purchase from Amazon and other book retailers.