The first thing that stands out about the bio-response report card issued by the Bipartisan Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Research Center (the WMD Center) is the number of red boxes marked F, indicating a “failure to meet expectations.” The second thing that stands out: There are no As. The U.S., for the most part, received good marks in response capabilities to small-scale attacks, but the report makes clear that the country does not have adequate measures in place to response to a large-scale biological event.
What would be a large-scale attack? The same amount of anthrax powder used in the 2001 attacks distributed in the ventilation system of the World Trade Center could have killed far more people than the 9-11 attacks, the report says.
The WMD Center enlisted the aid of subject-matter experts and 24 of the nation’s top biodefense, public health, and medical experts to assess the nation’s preparedness to respond to a biological attack. The report grades the country’s progress in various response capabilities from detecting an attack, responding to it, and tracing where it originated.
Methods of detection and diagnosis are improving, but funding shortfalls threaten to undermine improvements that have taken place on state and local levels. In almost all types of attacks, the country received failing marks in its ability to identify the source of a biological event. “Despite extensive research, a scientifically and legally validated attribution capability does not yet exist for anthrax or virtually any other pathogen or toxin,” the report states. The report also notes how past studies have shown it would be almost impossible to detect a facility being used to manufacture biological weapons, so early detection is crucial.