BioTerrorism 101

When I called the fire chief, he said that was our problem and visa versa. Who could blame the first responders for not knowing how to handle an incident of mass destruction?


  1. ANTHRAX - A bacterium that produces a fatal toxin. Inhaled, ingested or contact with an abrasion on the skin. If inhaled, early symptoms reminiscent of the common cold; skin infection may look like small insect bite at first progressively getting worse. Ingestion due to contaminated food leads to vomiting blood and severe diarrhea. Treatment through antibiotics. Prolonged diagnosis and treatment leads to death (1-3 days); lethality of successful attack on large population could be that of a nuclear weapon. One ounce (1 oz.) strategically released in a sporting stadium would infect everyone.
  2. BOTULISM - Another bacterium considered "the most potent substance known to man". Inhaled or ingested. Symptoms (blurred vision, slurred speech, muscle weakness starting at head and moving throughout body, etc.) within six hours to two weeks and death within 24 hours. Centers for Disease Control has the vaccine. A single, weaponized, gram deployed evenly would kill up to a million people.
  3. PLAGUE - Bacterium; naturally occurring and living harmlessly on rodents, but weaponized to be inhaled. Symptoms 1-6 days are fever, headache and weakness leading to shock and death between two and four days. Antibiotics administered within first 24 hours essential for survival. Effective dose is 100 to 500 organisms.
  4. SMALLPOX - It's a virus medically eradicated from the world in 1977, but thought to have been weaponized and modified by other countries. Initially inhaled and then spread by infected people through saliva droplets. Symptoms prevalent in about 12 days and include fever, fatigue and aches followed by rash with lesions leading to death in about two weeks. No identified treatment. Dose needed for infection; 10 to 100 organisms.
  5. TULAREMIA - "One of the most infectious pathogenic bacteria known". Inhaled or ingested. Symptoms apparent 1-2 weeks, followed by progressive weakness, weight loss, and death within 14 days. Antibiotics are the identified treatment. Exposure to ten to fifty organisms can cause infection. It's estimated that if 50kg were sprayed over a major city of 5 million then roughly 250,000 would be casualties with nearly 19,000 dead.
  6. VIRAL HEMORRHAGIC FEVERS - A group of illnesses caused by several special "families" of viruses. Some of the viruses are particularly deadly like the Ebola virus. Symptoms (fever, fatigue, dizziness, muscle aches, etc.) visible within 2-21 days. No identified treatments other than supportive therapy. Infective amount is 1 to 10 organisms.

What does this mean for first responders? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are worried about the above six compared to all others, either known or unknown. In their view, these six when weaponized and deployed pose a risk to national security that is high priority. In response to this identified threat, police, fire, security, and EMS should have at least received the basic knowledge of how to handle these incidents. To address our general lack of operational knowledge I suggest the following:

  • Realize that a bio-terror attack can affect your community. The accumulation of knowledge starts with awareness. Even if you choose to believe "it will never happen here", understand that Weapons of Mass Destruction doctrine stipulates that preparations for an attack on "city X" starts in the planning and preparation stage in "city Y"; usually not your target location. That means your officers may have the chance of interdicting terrorists planning an attack, or making preparations for one, in your town with intentions of hitting your neighboring city.
  • The preferable time and the place for stopping a terrorist attack is not during their "phase of execution" - while enroute to the target. Rather you are more effective when you search out terrorists and disrupt their planning when they are most vulnerable (preparations, logistics, intelligence gathering, etc.). Especially when the terrorist attack is biological where the actual event occurred a week or two prior to the mass outbreak of infection.
  • Discovering their vulnerabilities means you have to know what to look for. Of the six most concerning agents to the CDC their common denominator for "deployment" is through aerosol spraying. Unless you have informants embedded within a terrorist cell (and your local agency probably does not), where you are getting up-to-date intelligence, you have to start somewhere. Look for suspicious behavior that focuses on the purchase of equipment for dispensing aerosols, out of the ordinary interest with decontamination, farming, pharmaceutical technology, websites or other support material showing how to harvest biological hosts, etc.
  • Remind yourself every day as you go on patrol that SURVEILLANCE is the #1 indicator of an impending terrorist attack. Catch someone surveilling a location, better first think possible terrorist before anything other.

Summary:

Here is the least you need to know for this section -

  • The first biological terrorist attack occurred in the U.S. in 1984.
  • The CDC has identified six bacteriums or viruses as high priority and a risk to national security: Anthrax, Botulism, Plague, Smallpox, Tularemia, and Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers.
  • The six are extremely deadly, currently exist, and are sought out by terrorists who want to use them against our civilian populations.
  • They are all deployed through aerosol spraying.
  • Seek out suspicious activity revolving around the deployment preparations and method, densely populated events as potential targets (sporting events, transit centers, etc.) and other linked intelligence.


  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to Officer.com. To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.