Date: February 21, 1999
Abstract: Terrorists contaminate an auditorium with silent, odorless smallpox just before a political rally. Soon, emergency rooms see mysterious illnesses. By the time doctors diagnose smallpox, coughing patients are spreading the lethal virus around the globe.
This time it was a test-run.
Doctors, hospital workers and U.S. health leaders used that fictional scenario, set in Baltimore, to test how they would control disease if bioterrorists ever attack - debating step by step how to quarantine, shut down airports, control panic when vaccine runs out.
How did the trial run go?
"We blew it," said a grim Michael Ascher, California's viral disease chief. If an attack really had happened, it would have taken just three months for 15,000 Americans to catch smallpox, 4,500 to die and 14 countries to be re-infected with a disease thought wiped out decades ago.
"We would be irresponsible if we left this room and didn't remedy this," said Jerome Hauer, New York City's emergency management director.
How can doctors prepare? The test-run offers clues.
The Fictional Scenario Begins:
April 1. The FBI gets a tip terrorists might release smallpox during the vice president's speech at a Baltimore college. The tip is too vague to warn health officials. Smallpox incubates for two weeks so no one has yet become sick.
April 12. A college student and electrician come to the emergency room with fever and other flu-like symptoms. Doctors suspect mild illness, maybe flu, and send them home.
April 13, 10 a.m. Both patients are back, sicker and covered in a rash. Doctors now
suspect adult chickenpox. The two are hospitalized. 6 p.m. An infectious
disease specialist is puzzled. That rash doesn't really look like
chickenpox, and it's popping up in places chickenpox normally doesn't afflict, like the soles of the feet. More testing suggests it might be smallpox.
Because smallpox is spread through the air, officials seal the hospital,
telling visitors and staff they can't leave but not why. Frightened hospital
visitors alert TV news crews, who report rumors of the dreaded Ebola virus.
3 a.m. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms it's smallpox, and ships some of the nation's 6 million doses of smallpox vaccine to Baltimore. The mayor will announce the bad news at noon.
Is this scenario realistic? It's optimistic, said Gregory Moran of the University of California, Los Angeles. A typical hospital would take at least another full day to even suspect smallpox. Labs would test for other diseases first, andmany don't have the equipment to hazard a smallpox guess.
"Half of the health care workers would try to leave the hospital out of panic," added Minnesota state epidemiologist Michael Osterholm.
Who's in charge? The governor should go on TV and tell the public the truth fast - what are the symptoms, who's at risk, how are doctors fighting back - to limit panic, advised former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson.
But a smallpox outbreak can only be terrorism, so watch
Washington seize control, others say.
the FBI has to hunt the terrorists.
Sealing the hospital actually fuels fear, Osterholm contends. Getting vaccinated a few days after breathing smallpox is soon enough to stay healthy and not spread infection, so let visitors and staff go home until the vaccine arrives.
No, get everybody vaccinated: "That's total damage control," Ascher argued.
Could anyone quarantine the city?
If this happened in Minnesota, thousands would flee to Canada, Carlson
said, but the governor couldn't seal the state's borders. Canada might.
The scenario continues:
April 16, 7 a.m. FBI, CDC, White House and hospital workers are debating via conference call. Do they vaccinate everyone? No, just people who came into contact with sick patients.
Hospitals report other cases of mysterious fevers and rashes. By day's end, CDC counts 48 smallpox cases - 10 in nearby states, so it's spreading.
Noon. The president addresses the nation, saying the attack may have occurred April 1. It's too late for vaccine to help anyone exposed that day.
No wonder the fictional epidemic is spreading - notice that nobody closed the airport. John Bartlett of Johns Hopkins University can't believe that other cities would accept travelers from a region experiencing smallpox.
You're seriously underestimating public panic, Osterholm adds. He recalled watching a simple, tiny meningitis outbreak paralyze a Minnesota town, as traffic snarled while people demanded vaccine.
"Doctors need to know what to do," added Moran: Hospitalize everyone with mild fevers, or send them home?
Hospitalization would require rooms with special ventilation systems to keep the virus from spreading through the building. Such rooms are rare, 450 in all of Minnesota, for example.
Back to the pretend scenario:
April 18. The
first victim, the college student, dies.
April 29. Two hundred are ill in eight states. Canada discovers two victims, Britain another. People with mild fevers jam hospitals. Doctors tell them to stay home so they don't breathe on others - there are no hospital beds left.
Unvaccinated health workers walk off the job. CDC announces there's not enough vaccine for the millions demandingit. Governors ration the shots. Public anger is fueled at press reports that the president, Congress and military were quietly vaccinated.
April 30. A well-known college basketball player dies of hemorrhagic smallpox, massive bleeding instead of the more typical rash. TV stations get confused and report he died of hemorrhagic fever like Ebola. Doctors scramble for a correction.
This daylong role-playing is doctors' first chance to learn how complex fighting bioterrorism could be, said Hopkins' Tara O'Toole, who wrote the test case. Cities and states are used to dealing with earthquakes or plane crashes, but a spreading infection is totally different.
Who's in charge? How do you physically vaccinate 100,000 people in a day? How do you ration scarce vaccine so only the at-risk get it, not the hysterical healthy or the pushy politicians?
"If there's even a possibility this could happen, health departments have to prepare. ... But they've never looked at the big picture," O'Toole said. "You're hearing everybody confess they need to do a lot."
In the fictional scenario, a month has passed:
May 15. All U.S. vaccine is gone. The president declares the worst-hit states are disaster areas. Thousands more become sick before the epidemic finally slows in June.
The real-life doctors absorb the grim ending with brief silence. Then come calls for state health workers to plan how they would better fight bioterrorism in case it really happened."I don't want the audience walking away thinking, 'Damn, there's nothing we can do,'" Osterholm said. "If this meeting does nothing else, it should ensure we get an adequate supply of smallpox vaccine (stored) as soon as possible." (SFSU, 1999).
Title: Tampa Health Officials Preparing For Bioattacks At Republican Convention
Date: August 20, 2012
Abstract: Epidemiologists with the Hillsborough County Health Department are requesting that health care providers in Tampa, Florida, quickly report diseases to public health officials before, during and after the Republican National Convention.
Public health officials expressed a desire to hear immediately from health care workers who see patients with food-related illnesses, bloody diarrhea, unusual rash or any unexplained severe illnesses. The officials also want to hear of any suspected illness from possible bioterrorism, including plague, brucellosis, botulism, anthrax or viral hemorrhagic fevers, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
“We are also asking that providers report whether or not a patient is visiting for the RNC or has attended any RNC events,” the request from the department said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “We understand that this information would not normally be collected, but it would be especially useful for us during this period.”
Health officials also want to hear about two or more patients with unexplained adult respiratory distress syndrome, pneumonia, flu-like illness, sepsis, neurologic disease, dermatological disease or gastrointestinal disease, according to the Tampa Bay Times.The convention will be held between August 27 and August 30 in Tampa. The officials want health care workers to be on the alert until at least September 6 (BioPrepWatch, 2012).
Feds Warn Anarchists Could Blockade Roads, Use Acid-Filled Eggs To Protest
Date: August 22, 2012
Source: Fox News
Abstract: Federal authorities are urging law enforcement agencies across the country to watch out for signs that extremists might be planning to wreak havoc at the upcoming political conventions -- by blocking roads, shutting down transit systems and even employing what were described as acid-filled eggs.
The warning came in a joint FBI-Department of Homeland Security bulletin issued Wednesday.
The bulletin specifically warned about a group of anarchists from New York City who could be planning to travel to the convention sites to disrupt the events by blockading bridges.
Anarchists "see both parties as the problem," so both conventions are prime targets for them, a federal law enforcement official told Fox News.
The Republican National Convention is set to open Monday in Tampa, Fla., and the Democratic National Convention gets underway a week later in Charlotte, N.C.
The joint bulletin, titled "Potential For Violent or Criminal Action By Anarchist Extremists During The 2012 National Political Conventions," says anarchist extremists likely don't have the capability to overcome heightened security measures set up by the conventions themselves. In addition, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said Tuesday that fences have been established around "some of the more attractive government targets."
Instead, extremists could target nearby infrastructure, including businesses and transit systems, according to Wednesday's bulletin.
The bulletin mentions possible violent tactics anarchist extremists could employ, including the use of molotov cocktails or acid-filled eggs.
In August 2008, federal authorities arrested a man who was planning to use a molotov cocktail during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. In addition, authorities executed four search warrants and arrested eight others for planning to disrupt the convention, according to a 2010 FBI intelligence assessment posted online.
On Tuesday, Tampa police confiscated bricks and pipes found on a rooftop several blocks away from the site of the Republican convention. Graffiti associated with the anarchist movement was also found. Castor called the discovery "disconcerting but ... not surprising."
The bulletin issued Wednesday notes that in 2008, anarchists discussed trying to shut down roads and skyways in St. Paul.
In addition, the bulletin discusses anarchists' use of social media to inform each other of law enforcement actions and positions.
Even though activists associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement are planning to converge on both conventions to protest what one OWS group called "this political system that only works for the 1%," the bulletin issued Wednesday makes no mention of Occupy Wall Street -- focusing instead on "extremist" activities.
"We have said all along that the vast majority of individuals coming to the Tampa Bay area to demonstrate will do so peacefully but there is no doubt that there is a small percentage that will come bent on destruction and disruption, and those are the individuals that we will deal with very quickly," Castor told reporters Tuesday.
The conventions have each been designated a "National Special Security Event" by the U.S. Secret Service, which by law leads operational security plans for such events in coordination with federal, state and local law enforcement.
The Tampa Police department has been asking fellow officers from across the state to help provide security for the convention. Those officers would be paid from $50 million Congress has given both Tampa and Charlotte to offset security costs associated with hosting a convention.
The FBI has long warned of potential dangers posed by "anarchist extremism," particularly during global summits and big events hosted in the United States.The federal law enforcement official told Fox News there is "no credible threat" tied to international terrorism, but there is always concern that big events such as the political conventions are "attractive targets" (Fox News, 2012).
Political Sign Battle, Thievery, Acid And Jelly
Date: October 29, 2012
Source: New York Times
Abstract: Two weeks ago, Hillary Wiseheart plunged an Obama-Biden campaign sign into her front lawn, a defiant stance amid the riot of Romney-Ryan signs in her well-kept neighborhood. The next day, it was gone.
Ms. Wiseheart donated $5 to President Obama’s campaign for a new sign and planted it. Gone. By the fifth sign, her daughter, Josephine Wiseheart, 31, who almost nabbed the sign-snatcher one late afternoon, put up a second, homemade sign standing sentry next to the new Obama sign.
“Every time you STEAL our sign, you help DONATE to Obama’s campaign. Thanks for the SUPPORT.” The next morning, Obama was gone. Left untouched was Josephine’s hand-scrawled sign of gratitude.
“In 2008, we had one sign, and it stayed up the whole time,” said Mrs. Wiseheart, a psychologist and Miami native. For the first time, she feels ill at ease in her own neighborhood, she said. “It has made me very upset. I’m 67. I’ve never had this experience. It feels like hatred.”
Along tidy, landscaped yards in these parts, political signs are as common as sprinklers (although Romney-Ryan outpaces Obama-Biden), and partisans from both parties are guilty of high jinks. Signs for Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney are being swiped, mangled, shredded, spray-painted and urinated on all around Miami and in places farther afield. They serve as proxies, easy targets, for all the fury, disappointment and disgust the presidential race has stirred, at least among some voters.
Sometimes, irate voters go on the record with their outrage; they call the police, file a report. Most often, though, they reserve their complaints for friends, neighbors and the campaign offices that sell the signs and offer up escalating tales of vandalism.
One man found his Obama signs (and grass) despoiled by acid. A series of Fire Obama signs that stretched down a road last week were sliced in half, with precision, so only Obama remained. Passers-by called the police when they spotted a bunch of Obama signs floating in a canal. A house with an Obama-Biden sign was pelted with eggs (and Halloween isn’t even here yet). One set of dueling neighbors, eager to outdo each other, affixed more and more signs to their yards; one morning the Romney lawn sat nearly barren.
Then there was the man in a neighborhood shaded by gumbo-limbo trees who watched, with a grin, as his dog urinated on a sign (the name on it will go unmentioned). He later told friends that his dog had participated in early voting.
“It’s a personal statement when your home has a political sign up front,” said Bob Goldstein, the president of the Democrats of South Dade Club, which has helped staff an Obama volunteer office that dispenses signs. “So when someone steals it from you, it’s more than a personal affront.”
Headed back to her Cutler Bay home with a new stash of Romney-Ryan and Fire Obama placards in the back of her car, Michelle Raghunandan, 48, said her determination has only hardened with each vanishing sign.
On Sunday night, after three weeks of theft, she found her signs still there on her lawn, only they had been mangled and tossed aside. She hopped back in her car and picked up more signs.
“I feel it’s an invasion of privacy, though my husband says I’m overreacting,” said Ms. Raghunandan, exasperated. “I’m beside myself. We all have our opinions, our freedom of speech. I can get my point across without violence.”
Bumper stickers are not immune, either. Josephine Wiseheart said she was at a gas station last week when her boyfriend pointed to her bumper: A Romney sticker had been plastered atop her Obama sticker. Worse still, one woman reported to the campaign office that somebody had shredded her bumper Obama sticker and then, oddly, coated her car with grape jelly.
Trying to trap thieves, or at least deter them, has become the newest front-yard game. In Orlando, Fla., a Romney supporter finally nailed her sign to a tree, but not well enough; it disappeared soon after. Rodrigo Zuñiga, 23, a student and banker, has switched on his outdoor security cameras in Miami, a security-conscious city, in the hopes of snaring the culprits (at one point he got so angry he tempted vandals with six Romney-Ryan signs, using Fire Obama as the exclamation point). And Carol Nagengast threaded fishing wire through an Obama sign and tethered it to a tree, hoping to flummox the thieves (so far it has worked). Vaseline is also a much-used used counteroffensive tactic.
With Romney signs far outnumbering Obama signs around here, the most aggrieved voters appear to be those who support Mr. Obama. Some voters, they say, simply won’t put up Obama signs for fear of vandalism.
“People don’t want to get egged,” said Barry White, 74, who saw his sign defaced by acid. He left it on his lawn for several days, bearing witness to the level of enmity in Miami, he said. Tuesday night it was stolen.
“We are judged by our actions,” Mr. White said. “The sign will be replaced.”
Neighborly overtures, which are relatively uncommon to begin with in Miami, have suffered, too, depending on the names the lawns advertise.
Ms. Wiseheart said she is simply demoralized, and worried about Mr. Obama’s prospects here. For a time she wore her Obama-Biden T-shirt when she walked her dog in the neighborhood. But the other day, someone “flipped me the flying creature,” she said, and hurled an obscenity at her and her dog. Not long after, she saw a car driving down the street. It appeared to swerve suspiciously in her direction. She froze, then chalked it up to paranoia.
“It doesn’t feel good,” she said (New York Times, 2012).