Sandia/California National Laboratories in Livermore will be at the other end of calls from managers of high-profile transportation hubs, such as airports, and other public places, ready to give critical information to help them deal with biohazards.
"In the immediate aftermath of one of these events, people aren't going to know a lot right away," said chemical engineer Nate Gleason, who leads the new BioWatch Indoor Reachback Center at Sandia. "We can make some useful information out of very little data."
The center is part of the Department of Homeland Security's BioWatch program, which includes detectors that can sense dangerous biological materials at 30 transportation hubs and public places that are part of this program. When a detection alarm goes off, the emergency responders at that site can call Sandia for help in handling the situation.
Sandia scientists and engineers have models of each facility and the benefit of decades of research on how contaminants move through buildings. San Francisco International Airport has partnered with Sandia for some of the research.
The scientists also have access to a database of hundreds of thousands of potential attack scenarios. Using information about the specific facility and what was released there, they can zero in on the most likely scenarios, giving responders a head start on determining what they may be dealing with and how to respond. ...
Meanwhile, cases are spreading among homeless people in Washington, DC, and authorities are getting ready to close the schools, but they want to know what to do about children who depend on the school lunch program and those whose parents can't take time off work to care for them.
Those were two of the many dilemmas raised in a major pandemic simulation exercise staged at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta last week. Others included how to keep travelers from spreading the virus and what to do in the face of serious side effects caused by the leading antiviral drug.
It was the fourth in a series of exercises based on a scenario that puts the United States at the epicenter of an evolving pandemic featuring an H5N1 strain of flu. Instead of watching anxiously as a pandemic emerges on some other continent, the scenario goes, the United States has about 75% of the world's cases, all stemming from a traveler from Southeast Asia who brought the virus into the country. The series of exercises began in January 2007.
Although the event was only an exercise, it offered a close-up look at the CDC's expectations about the kinds of challenges it will face in the early stages of a real pandemic and how it might be likely to respond.
The simulation involved a total of roughly 1,000 people, most of them from the CDC but also a number from other government agencies, according to Von Roebuck, a CDC spokesman who hosted reporters witnessing the drill.
CDC emergency center buzzingThe 2-day event took place in the Director's Emergency Operations Center (DEOC) on the third floor of the gleaming CDC headquarters building on the Atlanta campus. There, specialists from many CDC branches and a few other agencies staffed computer stations laid out in long rows, with 60 stations in all, most of them occupied. They faced a wall filled with a dozen or more electronic displays that charted data on influenza cases and deaths, distribution of antivirals, deployment of CDC personnel, CDC goals and objectives, and various other dimensions of the pandemic and response. Flanking the data displays were two TV news feeds.
A similar but smaller control room a couple of buildings away was occupied by the CDC's Exercise Control Group, consisting of 51 people who designed and monitored the exercise, adding new wrinkles that the CDC had to respond to as it evolved. Some played roles as representatives of other federal agencies or state health departments.
As played out in the first exercise last year, the pandemic scenario began with an apparently healthy but infectious man from Southeast Asia who traveled to the United States, exposing other travelers on the way. After falling ill, he exposed household contacts, healthcare workers, and some members of a university sports team.
Soon, as depicted in subsequent exercises, cases linked to the index patient surfaced in 10 states, plus Washington, DC, the Marshall Islands, Guam, and several foreign countries, including Australia, India, the United Kingdom, Panama, Japan, and Canada. Early on, the CDC determined that the prepandemic H5N1 vaccine in the US stockpile was not of much use against the pandemic strain. But the agency began shipping antivirals, mainly oseltamivir (Tamiflu), to the states, allocating them in proportion to population.
By the time last week's exercise opened on Tuesday, which was termed the sixth day of the CDC's emergency response, there were 273 US cases and 27 deaths. The exercise began with a meeting involving CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding and about 25 senior staff members in a glass-walled conference room adjoining the DEOC. Sound from the meeting was piped—not always very audibly—into the main room.
As the exercise unfolded over the 2 days, cases mounted, slowly here, in spurts there. CDC officials hashed out responses in the early morning briefings and in conference calls with state officials; they announced decisions and recommendations at mock press briefings each morning and afternoon. (cont...)
LONDON: Prime Minister Gordon Brown is set to outline the first major overhaul of Britain's national security plans since the end of the Cold War, aiming to protect Britain from emerging threats including extreme weather, pandemic diseases, unstable energy supplies and terrorist attacks, his office said Tuesday.
The British leader will publish Britain's first-ever national security strategy Wednesday and launch a reorganization of the county's response to a host of threats, Brown's spokesman Michael Ellam said.......
Fort Monroe - Fort Monroe will hold a mass casualty exercise from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday with local fire, police and medical response departments. "The exercise scenario will involve multiple casualties from a major traffic accident," according to a Fort Monroe news release. Traffic in and around the Hampton Army base will be "significantly impacted" in the late morning, lunch time and early afternoon portions of the exercise.
UN warns new lethal bird flu strain may emerge in Indonesia
U.S. pandemic flu plan would put Chicago on lockdown (update)
Bradford County Stages Disease Outbreak Drill
New name for MASINT
Details emerge about futuristic spy tech