Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) provide an alternative impact when compared to conventional weapons (e.g. artillery, firearms, blades and knives, batons, et al.). WMDs can be chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive (CBRNE) in nature attacking the human body in manners not typical of conventional weapons (Cameron, Pate, McCauley, & DeFazio, 2000). WMDs can, therefore, have devastating effects on the preparedness of the health care system (Macintyre et al., 2000; Subbarao, Bond, Johnson, Hsu, & Wasser, 2006).
Considering an attack such as a mass contamination of the money supply, there are two possibilities: actual contamination and hoax contamination. In actual contamination, the epidemiology of illness will correspond with the travel of contaminated bills, reaching long distances in short periods of time (as evidenced by the website http://www.wheresgeorge.com). As the contaminated money travels from one consumer to the next (possibly also infecting adjacent bills, wallets, counter-tops, and register drawers), it will do so undetected until the incubation period lapses and the first wave of infected people begin presenting to health care facilities for treatment (presumably, with a difficult diagnosis – an uncommon pathogen). These people should be geographically dispersed so that identification of the terrorist act is yet to be made. Not until epidemiologists track the vector to the money supply will the threat be discovered. Once this occurs, the populace will be suspicious of money, causing an entirely different catastrophe, but the fear will be real.
On the other hand, if the attack is a hoax, there will be no incubation period or actual illness, yet psychogenic effects will be almost immediate, causing many people to seek medical care at once overburdening the health care system (MacIntyre et al., 2000). Arguably, this type of attack will be short-lived; however, the effects can be disastrous.
Regardless of the type of attack, whether actual or hoax, there will be a large, resource-intensive response from national, state, and local levels of government and the private sector (Walsh et al., 2012). This would place a strain on response resources and other infrastructure, such as health care as previously mentioned. In both instances, though, lives could be lost, also. With the real attack, many people could die from the disease, but if resources are taken away from other sick patients, they are at risk of dying also. This holds true for hoax attacks. As many healthy people flood emergency rooms with mysteriously fleeting symptoms, truly sick patients are not being managed efficiently and are put at serious risk.
Though the example attack might not be feasible for one reason or another, it is interesting to think of the many ways in which we as a nation are vulnerable. This leads to the question of how much we value our freedom vs. how many freedoms are we willing to give up in order to feel safe. I have decided that I value my freedom, the freedom that most foreign terrorists despise, so much that I am not willing to part with it to any extent. So long as we live free and without fear, the terrorists cannot win.
Cameron, G., Pate, J., McCauley, D., & DeFazio, L. (2000). 1999 WMD terrorism chronology: Incidents involving sub-national actors and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials. The Nonproliferation Review, 157-174. Retrieved from https://www.piersystem.com/clients/PIERdemo/ACF1D7.pdf
MacIntyre, A. G., Christopher, G. W., Eitzen, E., Gum, R., Weir, S., DeAtley, C., … Barbera, J. A. (2000). Weapons of mass destruction events with contaminated casualties: Effective planning for health care facilities. Journal of the American Medical Association, 283(2), 242-249. doi:10.1001/jama.283.2.242
Subbarao, I., Bond, W. F., Johnson, C., Hsu, E. B., & Wasser, T. E. (2006). Using innovative simulation modalities for civilian-based, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive training in the acute management of terrorist victims: a pilot study. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 21(4), 272-275. Retrieved from http://www.hopkins-cepar.org/downloads/publications/using_sim_modalities.pdf
Walsh, D. W., Christen, H. T., Callsen, C. E., Miller, G. T., Maniscalco, P. M., Lord, G. C., & Dolan, N. J. (2012). National Incident Management System: principles and practice (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.