Guarding against germ warfare

When federal officials simulated a bioterrorist attack on Denver, Colo., last year, “the city was lost,” said Alan S. Rudolph, Ph.D., M.B.A., a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. “They had to close the borders of the state of Colorado and they still couldn’t contain the pathogen they were modeling, a strain of plague.”

In remarks that seem prescient today after the terror attacks on the East Coast, Rudolph discussed the Colorado simulation exercise during a talk at surgical grand rounds in May. His topic? “Technological Challenges in Defending the U.S. against Biological and Chemical Warfare.” The simulation, Rudolph said, “taught us that we are ill-prepared to deal with this problem.” The military, he continued, must rethink its traditional mission of defending against a nuclear threat from a large adversary. “It is clear that a small number of people can perpetrate a fairly large effect,” he said. Protection efforts require the coordination of different agencies, he said. On September 20, President Bush announced a new cabinet position for homeland security to unify the government’s anti-terror efforts.