about Epidemiology & the department

Epidemiology academic information

Epidemiology faculty

Epidemilogy resources

sites of interest to Epidemiology professionals

Last Updated

31 Dec 2002

Source: Associated Press, June 25, 2002.

Scientists Urge Terrorism Defense

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States needs to establish an in-depth counterterrorism program to protect essential services, from energy delivery to information systems to emergency medicine, according to an analysis by a scientific panel.

The National Academy of Sciences report, released Monday, provides a blueprint for using science and technology to prevent or reduce the damage from terrorist attacks, said Lewis M. Branscomb of Harvard University, co-chairman of the committee that prepared the study.

"We assume any potential terrorist is looking at all their options, how they might attack us," he said. "We need to think about how to deprive them of those options."

The study noted, "Our society is too complex and interconnected to defend against all possible threats." Still, it called for prompt action to identify and repair the weakest links.

Much of Congress was turning its attention to homeland security on Tuesday, with the first of a dozen House and Senate hearings on President Bush's proposal to create a new Cabinet agency. The president's homeland security adviser, Tom Ridge, was to appear before a House panel examining the department's proposed capabilities to respond to chemical, biological and radiological attacks.

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., welcomed the Academy study. He said it is essential to focus research and development and coordinate it within the new Department of Homeland Security.

The Academy report called for "defense in depth," not just perimeter defense or firewalls.

Alan I. Leshner, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which issued a separate report on combating terrorism, stressed the complexity of the problem.

"Yes, terrorism and terrorist acts can come about because of the availability of technology, and you need technology to protect us from terrorist technology," he said.

But Leshner cautioned against restricting openness in scientific communications.

"While protecting ourselves against potential problems, we don't want it to obstruct the future progress in science that we need to advance society," he said.

The massive National Academy report looked at nuclear and radiological threats; possible attacks on human health systems and agriculture; use of toxic chemicals and explosives; the vulnerability of information technology, energy systems, transportation and cities; and the human response to terrorism.

Suggestions for immediate action included:

-Developing improved methods to protect and account for nuclear weapons and other nuclear materials.

-Ensuring the production and distribution of treatments for disease threats.

-Designing and installing in-depth security for transportation, in particular shipping containers and vehicles that carry toxic or flammable materials.

-Improving security for energy distribution systems.

-Developing improved air filtration methods for ventilation systems.

-Ensuring that first responders such as police and fire departments can communicate with one another.

The study was launched after the Sept. 11 attacks, bringing in scientists, engineers, doctors, counterterrorism experts and arms-control specialists from the Academy and its components, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

The Academy is an independent organization chartered by Congress to provide scientific advice to the government. It held briefings on the study Monday at the White House and Congress.

In its separate report, released at the same time as the Academy's findings, the American Association for the Advancement of Science concluded that the nation is poorly prepared to deal with either bioterrorism or attacks on its information systems.

The report by AAAS, the world's largest association of scientists, includes a series of papers looking at the potential hazards of terrorism.

"Bioterrorism is not going to go away," wrote D.A. Henderson, chairman of the Department of Health and Human Services' Council on Public Health Preparedness.

"We are concerned with a comparatively short list of dangerous diseases that would be catastrophic and potentially destabilizing," Henderson said in one of the papers. "They are smallpox, anthrax, plague, tularemia, botulinum toxin and the group of diseases that manifest themselves as hemorrhagic fevers."