Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Proliferation and Terrorism believes the greatest threat for attack is a biological weapon. They base their conclusions advances in technology that may allow groups to synthesize Ebola virus or engineer new types of pathogens that are highly contagious and drug resistant.
Biological weapons, for the most part, have always had the problem of the dispersal mechanism (such as a explosive device) destroying more of the agent than it spreads. Winds and rain have also created dispersal problems for sprays or aerosols as they tend to dilute or destroy the pathogen. Genetic engineering may be able to produce a strain of pathogen that is hardy enough to withstand a blast or having a high enough lethality that only a small amount is required to spread.

The Commission made the following observation:
“Prevention alone is not sufficient, and a robust system for public health preparedness and response is vital to the nation’s security. In order to deter biological attacks, we need to demonstrate—through effective preparedness measures and public exercises—that we are capable of blunting the impact of an attack and thus thwarting the terrorists’ objectives.”
The commission reports goes on to say that nonproliferation have been geared exclusively towards nuclear weapons to date. Nuclear weapons, even dirty bombs, take a lot of sophistication to acquire and assemble to necessary components. A third party nation would have to hand the terrorists the weapons or components in order for this scenario to occur. Why then haven’t we seen it? You have no guarantee that once you hand over the nuclear weapon/material that the group won’t use it on your people or allies.

Balancing a response capability with an intelligence network nimble enough to detect a possible attack is challenging. Overhead imagery and intercepts of voice and data traffic may be unable to determine intent (something intelligence analysts are constantly trying to gauge). Creating a robust response capability to deal with a biological attack, especially one using a synthesized super bug, may not be feasible in these austere economic times.
Given this news, it would seem natural for the city and county to focus more on public safety. However, in this morning’s Enquirer we learn that the 800-bed Queensgate jail will close. The county could not find the $10 million to maintain this facility (more prisons are likely to be closed in Ohio as the governor tries to eliminated the state’s $7 billion deficit). The city budget proposes eliminating police and fire recruit classes until 2010. Incredibly, the city at the same has found money for: bedbug inspection ($291,000), climate protection coordinator ($114,000), and a small-business loan for a second location of Goodies Barbecue.

Funding during a budget cut is much like medical triage; hard choices have to be made and some patients may not survive because of those choices. Comparing what the county and city have cut and have chosen to fund leave me bewildered. How does one justify eliminating fire or police recruit classes yet choose to fund a restaurant? I’ve seen this same reasoning used in the military; reducing the number of new recruits to balance the budget. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as starting a new recruiting class back up once the budget improves. Those new fire and police officers were programmed to offset losses due injury or retirement in the respective departments. Cincinnati Fire and Police will lose a large number of personnel in 2012 due to similar measures during previous budget cuts. Losing a recruiting class also means it will be harder to recruit new applicants in the future; they will fear their class may also get cancelled.

There needs to be a better coordination of budget cuts between city and county agencies. We are going into some very interesting times and economic resources will be very constrained. More than ever, these agencies need to work smarter and not harder.

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