Thecatastrophic events of September 11, 2001 have shown the nation the dangersthat terrorist organizations can pose and the lengths they are willing to go tospread their message and agenda. The United States was unprepared for planesbeing hijacked and used as weapons in an attack. Though the concept for theattacks was not a surprise, no plan for such an event was ever made and nopreparations were in place to prevent it. After the attacks of 9/11, numerouschanges were enacted to prevent airplane from being hijacked and used asweapons again.
But the outcome was the same. The failure to plan for such anattack led to catastrophe. Since9/11 the term weapons of mass destruction, or WMD’s, has floated through themedia and news reports. WMD’s are weapons that have the capability of causingdeath or serious injury on a massive scale. WMD’s typically refer to weapons ofa chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive nature. Thoughthese threats can be identified, the government is not prepared for every typeof attack with a WMD. This is especially true when looking at biologicalweapons.
The United States government is not prepared to deal with a massiveattack from a biological weapon. Biologicalweapons are weaponized viruses and diseases that are targeted and released to causethe most destruction. They could be aerosolized versions of deadly diseasesreleased over major U.S. cities, or deadly substances being introduced into thefood supply. In many cases, biologicalweapons can be more deadly than a nuclear bomb. A few kilograms of anthraxcould kill as many people as the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima (Siegrist).
Though the United States has made strides toprepare for a possible biological attack, they are not enough. This is largelydue to restraints on equipment that is needed to prepare for such an attack.Part of the reason a biological weapon would be so deadly is theyare very hard to detect. The attack likely wouldn’t be discovered until thecasualties were already mounting. The equipment needed for early detection,such as pathogen sensors, is largely unavailable at this time. Prevention isn’tthe only issue, there is also treatment. Many biological agents are difficultto treat once symptoms appear. To make matters worse, many of the medicinesneeded for treatment have a limited shelf life and can’t be stockpiled.
Mostmedical facilities are not prepared for a mass biological attack. Though theNational Disaster Medical System has access to a larger number of hospital bedsacross the nation to be used in such events, they are not all equipped with thenecessary equipment to keep someone suffering from a biological attack alive. (Siegrist)Biological weapons are not as easy to make as other types ofweapons, though. There is no ‘cookbook’ for them.
They require a technicalexpertise and knowledge that isn’t widely available. But that information isbecoming easier to access and is spreading. The most difficult aspect would be acquiringthe sample culture for the virus or disease being used, but this is far fromimpossible. There are more than 1,500 biological culture libraries in theworld, and even more research institutions and natural sources.
After thesample is acquired and cultivated, there are no unique ingredients to make theviruses weaponized. All of the equipment needed to develop the biologicalweapon has legitimate commercial and research purposes. They only need a way todisseminate them. A facility producing biological weapons could be small, inexpensiveand unassuming. Thankfully, the government is actively supporting research intomedicine and vaccines that will be needed in case of a biological attack, andis developing emergency response plans should an attack occur.