Tag Archives: emergency management

Future Threats

Aside from hoax attacks, where credible threats occur based on purposeful counter-intelligence efforts of terrorists, I suspect large-scale events to be the modus operandi of terrorists in the next decade. According to LaFree, Yang, and Crenshaw (2009), anti-U.S. terrorists have ample intent on attacking the U.S. on our soil; however, this would be a huge and logistically complicated undertaking. For this reason, any future organized act of terror on U.S. soil will be designed to be significant, causing extreme loss of life or toppling a significant structure or both.

Biologic weapons would be the choice for terrorists who wished to inflict harm to the greatest amount of people, though releasing biologic material lacks the sudden impact usually sought, and weaponized biologics are not easily grown or economical (Levitin, 2005). Chemical weapons are typically easier and cheaper to manufacture, though they lack effectiveness and tend to merely create a scare of equivalent magnitude of a hoax (Levitin, 2005). Aside from basic explosives, this leaves the radiologic threat, a threat that I believe, coupled with a significant target, will cause devastating effects not unlike 9/11.

A dirty bomb is a conventional explosive used to disseminate radiologic materials over an area. I foresee a coordinated attack on the financial districts of the U.S. using dirty bombs. The bombs would, first, cause physical destruction to the buildings causing immediate disruption of the financial sector of the U.S. economy, along with a large death toll. Second, the radiation dispersed over the area would cause difficulty in cleaning up the area, inhibiting recovery and further impacting the financial markets.

A law enforcement response to such an attack would certainly be large in scale. The local police department would be first to respond, along with state police, then the WMD Coordinator at the local FBI field office would be apprised of the situation. As responders start arriving on scene, personal radiation detectors would start to tone indicating the release of radiologic material. This further information would prompt the WMD Dictorate in Washington, D.C., to order a full asset response by the FBI and other federal terrorism partners (e.g. the Joint Terrorism Task Force). The response to this type of incident should be trained on in cooperative exercises involving all levels of law enforcement. Additionally, personal radiation detectors (and other detectors) should, at a minimum, be placed in police vehicles for early warning of environments immediately dangerous to life and health. Adequate training, equipment, and preparation are the only ways in which to prepare for responding to large-scale terrorist attacks.


LaFree, G., Yang, S., & Crenshaw, M. (2009). Trajectories of terrorism: Attack patterns of foreign groups that have targeted the United States, 1970-2004. Criminology & Public Policy, 8(3), 445-473. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9133.2009.00570.x

Levitin, H. W. (2005). Debunking myths: How law enforcement can help diffuse the public’s fear. On the Beat. Retrieved from http://www.adl.org/learn/columns/Levitin.asp

Fear of Terrorism

As terrorism becomes more prevalent within a society, concerns about the psychological effects are brought to the forefront. The psychological effects of terrorism, in general, should have an impact on the ability of law enforcement and the public to interface appropriately. A recent study by Bleich, Gelkopf, and Solomon (2003) of the psychological effects of terrorism on the public in Israel showed surprisingly low levels of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms despite high incidences of direct exposure to terror events. This study demonstrated that, although up to a third of the respondents acknowledged a “limited sense of safety and substantial distress [they] reported adapting to the situation without substantial mental health symptoms and impairment, and most sought various ways of coping with terrorism and its ongoing threats [, possibly linked to] processes of adaptation and accommodation” (p. 619). The study found that the most effective and widely used coping mechanism was checking on the well-being of friends and family. As people tend to cope well with trauma, attitudes towards protective measures seem to acquiesce for the common good, and this can be assistive to law enforcement.

One of the protective measures people tend to adopt that would help law enforcement is a sense of hypervigilance (Bleich, Gelkopf, & Solomon, 2003). Hypervigilance allows the people to be more attentive to things out of the ordinary (e.g. unattended packages, suspicious loitering, anxious mannerisms of others, et al.). This promotes a line of communication with law enforcement not only regarding terrorism but for other criminal activity, also.

Another protective measure, which goes towards acquiescence, is the ability of the people, in general, to accept an increased presence of law enforcement in their daily lives. When faced with a proximal event, the bulk of the citizenship contend that it is, indeed, a function of government to protect the masses from further harm, and these citizens tend to accept limits on personal liberty for perceived increases in security (Klein, 2007). This is a double-edged sword, however. People tend to want to return to a normal state of affairs (Bleich, Gelkopf, & Solomon, 2003). Though an increased police presence is initially welcomed and embraced, the people will eventually resent the loss of liberty and require law enforcement presence to recede. How this occurs will either enhance or detract from the ongoing relationship with law enforcement. An example of this is easy to see when considering both local law enforcement and the federal effort of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Local law enforcement seems to have decreased their presence, at least in my area, and are respectfully viewed as helpful, whereas the TSA, an agency that continues to irrationally impede on liberty, is viewed negatively by the traveling public.

Law enforcement is a service-based industry where the public is the customer. Police need to understand both the rights and the fears of the people in order to maintain the appropriate level of service, which waxes and wanes.


Bleich, A., Gelkopf, M, & Solomon, Z. (2003). Exposure to terrorism, stress-related mental health symptoms, and coping behaviors among a nationally representative sample in Israel. Journal of the American Medical Association, 290(5), 612-620.

Klein, L. (2007). Civil liberties and national security in the post 9-11 era: State power and the impact of the USA Patriot Act. Conference Papers – American Sociological Association, 1-8.

WMD Coordinator

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI; 2007) and the U.S. Department of Justice (2009), the WMD Coordinator, a designated Special Agent within each field office, is responsible for initiating the federal response to any possible WMD event. “The Attorney General has lead authority to investigate federal crimes, which includes the use or attempted use of a WMD. 28 U.S.C. § 533 (2008) and 18 U.S.C. § 2332(a) (2008). The Attorney General has delegated much of this investigative authority to the FBI” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2009, p. 1). The WMD Coordinator helps to fulfill this mandate by being the point of contact for local and state officials when an event involving an WMD is suspected to have occurred.

In the Mattapan scenario, the initial response by the Boston Police Department and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority Police Department unveil a possible attempt to utilize an explosive to disseminate a chemical or biologic material in a public place. As soon as this plot is uncovered, an emergency response plan should be initiated, which involves notifying the Boston FBI field office of the suspected WMD event. The WMD Coordinator of the Boston field office would be the person receiving this notification. The Massachusetts State Police would also be notified to respond as they are able to provide their own subject matter experts and resources.

As a WMD subject matter expert, once notified of the circumstances, according to the FBI (2007), the WMD Coordinator responds to the scene and assists local and state law enforcement in determining the threat. Once it is established that an WMD is involved, whether by direct investigation at the scene or based on reports from law enforcement, the WMD Coordinator would immediately notify the WMD Directorate at FBI Headquarters. This notification would activate a team of WMD experts who would participate in a conference call with the WMD Coordinator to further identify the threat and, also, identify the additional federal resources needed to respond to the event. The additional resources could be individual experts, federal response teams from other departments or bureaus (e.g. the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives), or the special teams of the FBI, including the Chemical and Biological Sciences unit (to identify the particular payload material), photo operations personnel, an explosives team (based on the dispersal mechanism being explosives), the disaster squad (to identify any potential victims), and the national level Hazardous Material Response Unit and the local Hazardous Material Response Team to collect evidence from the scene. The WMD Coordinator would, then, be responsible for leading the investigation.

The WMD Coordinator would most likely fulfill his role within the unified incident command structure as Law Enforcement Command. This position would allow him or her to delegate the responsibilities of the response, including the need to provide information to the public. Public Information Officers provide a critical role in major response efforts. They provide enough information to the public to allay any unfounded fears, provide direction and instructions when needed, and filter sensitive information so that it does not become public knowledge. It is important for the public to be apprised of the situation in a calm and authoritative manner to assure them that everything necessary is being done. It is also important for the public to understand the risks of the situation in a realistic manner to prevent a mass overreaction.

The WMD Coordinator position is a valuable tool of the FBI and the federal government. Though the value of this position has been criticized for the lack of readiness and training, preparations are being undertaken to ensure a quality approach to responding to WMD events in the future (McDonald, 2009; U.S. Department of Justice, 2009).


Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2007, March 5). WMD threats: How we respond. Retrieved from http://www2.fbi.gov/page2/march07/wmd030507.htm

McDonald, J. (2009, October 8). FBI WMD Coordinator program needs improvement [Web log]. The OC Sheriff Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.ocsd.org/post/2009/10/08/Audit-of-FBI-Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction-Coordinator-Program-Recommends-Improvements.aspx

U.S. Department of Justice. (2009, September). The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Weapons Of Mass Destruction Coordinator program (Audit Report #09-36). Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/FBI/a0936.pdf

The Role of Federal Law Enforcement

The role of federal law enforcement has changed with the inception of the National Response Framework (NRF; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008). In the past, according to the obsolete National Response Plan (NRP; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2004), the effort of the federal government was to support local efforts and only take charge if necessary or requested to do so by the responsible jurisdiction. The NRF furthers this goal. However, according to a recent U.S. Department of Justice (2010) report, federal law enforcement is ill-prepared to provide a robust and organized response to an act of terrorism on U.S. soil, save for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

For instance, assume that a small group of terrorists detonate a bomb, otherwise known as a ‘suitcase bomb’, designed to shower radiologic material over an area approximately 9 city blocks in downtown Los Angeles. What chain reaction, in regards to a law enforcement response, would this event trigger?

First, calls to 9-1-1 reporting a large explosion would trigger a local response by both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, along with other emergency services. As local assets begin arriving, hopefully they determine the large and possibly catastrophic nature of the event and advise their communications center to make the appropriate notifications. These notifications would be contingent on the preplanned incident action plans of each agency, which would, hopefully, open emergency operations centers (EOCs) for the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, and the State of California. These EOCs would be responsible for making further notifications and coordinating the response with mutual aid agencies as well as state and federal assets. Common to most all preplans in the event of a suspected terrorist attack is the notification to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is responsible, according to the Department of Justice (2010) report and the NRF, for coordinating all law enforcement and investigative activities of federal agencies (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008).

A suitcase bomb is significant as it involves the spread of radiological materials that are harmful to humans. According to the Department of Justice (2010) report, the only federal law enforcement agency prepared to deal with such an event is the FBI. Thus, the FBI would be expected to offer expertise and specialized teams to the Los Angeles Police Department in a cooperative effort to begin law enforcement and investigative procedures as soon as possible.


U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2004). National response plan. Retrieved from http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/nrp/nrp.pdf

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2008). National response framework. Retrieved from http://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nrf/nrf-core.pdf

U.S. Department of Justice. (2010, May). Review of the department’s preparation to respond to a WMD incident (OIG Report# I-2010-004). Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/plus/e1004.pdf

Using the U.S. Patriot Act to Fight Terrorism

Many of the fundamental tenets of a free American society are founded on the basis of liberty. Americans enjoy liberty, but I surmise that many are unfamiliar with term. We as Americans can enjoy certain freedoms because of liberty. Liberty describes the condition of man to be able to govern him- or herself with regard only to the consequences of actions and decisions, the responsibility of liberty. Merriam-Webster (2011) defines liberty as “freedom from arbitrary or despotic control, the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges, and the power of choice” (para. 1). Using liberty as a foundational political philosophy, our forefathers prescribed our abilities as citizens in our freedom.

Faced with horrible, vicious, and unfamiliar terror, our society became frightened and called on our lawmakers to ease this fear. Without a full understanding of that which we were facing, the knee-jerk reaction that is the USA PATRIOT Act (2001) was signed into law. The unfortunate reality is that this law violates almost every libertarian prescription codified in the U.S. Constitution and those of the many states. No longer are we, as citizens, free to travel interstate by a common means of the day (air travel) without undue and warrantless searches and seizures. No longer can an American citizen be knowingly free to have private phone conversations without the fear of wiretaps, save for those that are reviewed by a judge to be warranted.

It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of . . . those liberties . . . which make[s] the defense of the Nation worthwhile” (U.S. v. Robel, 1967, pp. 258, 264). (as cited in Strossen, 2004, p. 368)

America is resilient because of the liberties enjoyed by every citizen. Legislation, such as the USA PATRIOT ACT (2001), undermines these liberties and creates a weaker nation as the focus turns towards government for the protection of the individual instead of the individual protecting the government as it has been since America’s inception. Focusing more on our freedoms and liberties while restating the need for each citizen to take an active role in their personal security and that of their community would go much farther than any knee-jerk legislation could ever hope to. I agree with Strossen (2004) that the USA PATRIOT Act is unnecessary, overreaching, and counterproductive the security of our free State.


Liberty. (2011). The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liberty

Strossen, N. (2004). Terrorism’s toll on civil liberties. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 9(3), 365–377. doi:10.1300/J146v09n03_07

USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-56, 115 Stat. 272 (2001).

Hacking Cyberterrorism

Although not particular to cyberterrorism, for this discussion I have chosen hacking as a type, or means, of cyberterrorism. Hacking covers virus loading and denial of service attacks, also. In order to carry out a cyberterrorism attack, it must be based on some sort of hacking. First, however, we must agree on the definitions of hacking and cyberterrorism. US Legal, a website dedicated to providing legal reference, broadly defines hacking as “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access” (Computer hacking law & legal definition, n.d., para 1). Cyberterrorism is, according to Denning (2006):

…[H]ighly damaging computer-based attacks or threats of attack by non-state actors against information systems when conducted to intimidate or coerce governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are political or social. It is the convergence of terrorism with cyberspace, where cyberspace becomes the means of conducting the terrorist act. Rather than committing acts of violence against persons or physical property, the cyberterrorist commits acts of destruction or disruption against digital property. (p. 124)

Arguably, in order to use a computer system to do any of the above, it involves hacking, but without hacking, there can be no cyber- component to cyberterrorism, which leaves mere terrorism. Fortunately, using these definitions, there has never been a cyberterrorism attack ever in history (Brunst, 2008; Conway, 2011). Brunst (2008) goes further using the term terrorism to include the planning (and, even pre-planning) phases of an event. I disagree with this tact in scholarship. Brunst fails to provide the distinction between cybercrime and cyberterrorism. Thinking simply, having a Facebook account in order for ease of communication does not amount to meeting for coffee. Messaging a friend on Facebook and organizing a meeting does not constitute meeting for coffee. The act of two or more persons meeting for coffee is a conventional one, however it was planned. This is the same with terrorism. I argue that, although much planning and radicalization can occur using computer networking (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, general information websites, et al.), any terroristic act that stems from such organization would still be considered conventional terrorism unless the act, itself, is described as being technological in nature (Conway, 2011).

There is potential for a cyber-attack to generate fear, economic impact, and the loss of life. This is why we concentrate on security measures to ensure difficulty in accessing systems without proper credentialing, rapid identification and response to active intrusions and threats, and recovery techniques to identify and repair data, networks, and nodes that were involved. For this reason, networks are designed with human redundancy. Human redundancy, as Clarke (2005) explains, integrates human decision points within a technological operational structure in order to detect, indicate, explain, and correct an error. Additionally, infrastructure, a commonly regarded target by the experts, tends to be resilient by its own nature making cyber-attacks inefficient and ineffectual (Conway, 2011; Lewis, 2002; Wilson, 2005)


Brunst, P. W. (2008). Use of the internet by terrorists: A threat analysis. Responses to Cyber Terrorism, 34(1), 34–60.

Clarke, D. M. (2005). Human redundancy in complex, hazardous systems: A theoretical framework. Safety Science, 43(9), 655-677. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2005.05.003

Computer hacking law & legal definition. (n.d.). US Legal. Retrieved from http://definitions.uslegal.com/c/computer-hacking/

Conway, M. (2011). Against cyberterrorism: Why cyber-based terrorist attacks are unlikely to occur. Communications of the ACM, 54(2), 26-28. doi:10.1145/1897816.1897829

Denning, D. (2006). A view of cyberterrorism five years later. In K. E. Himma (Ed.), Internet security: hacking, counterhacking, and society (pp. 123-139). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Lewis, J. A. (2002, December). Assessing the risks of cyber terrorism, cyber war and other cyber threats. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved from http://www.steptoe.com/publications/231a.pdf

Wilson, C. (2005, April 1). Computer attack and cyberterrorism: Vulnerabilities and policy issues for Congress (CRS Congressional report No. RL32114). Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA444799&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf

Cyberterrorism vs. WMD

Perhaps in an Orwellian society where computers are independant and there is very little human-to-computer interaction could a cyberterrorist cause such an impact as to be equal with a weapon of mass destruction. This is not true, however, regarding the technology of today. According to James Lewis (2002) from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “cyber attacks are less effective and less disruptive than physical attacks. Their only advantage is that they are cheaper and easier to carry out than a physical attack” (p. 2). Studies of the implementation of efforts to reduce the effectiveness of infrastructure during war show a resiliency that is poorly respected. Redundant systems in conjunction with a focused human response provides mitigation to reduce the impact of disruptive efforts on infrastructure (Wilson, 2005). It seems the more important the system, the larger and focalized the response.

The northeast blackout of 2003 provides a decent case study, although the cause was a systems failure and not related to terrorism. According to the article by Minkle (2008), within an hour and a half, 50-million subscribers lost power in eight states and parts of Canada for a few days, yet it only contributed to about 11 deaths within the affected area. While the impact was significant, geographically, it was more or less a nuisance for most people.


Lewis, J. A. (2002, December). Assessing the risks of cyber terrorism, cyber war and other cyber threats. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved from http://www.steptoe.com/publications/231a.pdf

Minkle, J. R. (2008, August 13). The 2003 northeast blackout — five years later. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/

Wilson, C. (2005, April 1). Computer attack and cyberterrorism: Vulnerabilities and policy issues for Congress (CRS Congressional report No. RL32114). Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA444799&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf

Planning a Terrorist Attack

Planning a clandestine attack using a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) is not simple. First, in order to promote an attack, the target needs to be viewed to have violated some ideology, policy, or other deeply held belief (“Terrorism, definition and history of,” 2002). Usually, a symbol of the offense will be chosen as either a specific target, such as the case of the World Trade Center, or as a vehicle or vector for the attack, as in the case of the U.S. Postal Service anthrax attacks (“Biological terrorism,” 2002; Marshall, 2002; “Weapons of mass destruction,” 2002). The dollar is an international symbol of capitalism and the might of the United States. In the current climate, especially with the declining U.S. economy, I would expect the money supply, itself, to be a viable vector for disseminating some sort of substance capable of causing terror. A dollar bill has a circulating life of 42 months and changes hands, on average, twice a day, and by impregnating paper money with a chosen substance, a single dollar bill could potentially harm more than 2,500 people during its circulation (U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Engraving, n.d.).

Almost as important as the vehicle is the impregnating substance. Chemical and radiological substances would be too easy to eventually detect, and the amount dispersed on each dollar bill might not be enough to cause harm. A live biological agent suspended in an aqueous nutrient solution could easily coat a dollar bill without detection and easily transfer to hands, surfaces, and other bills. According to Winfield and Groisman (2003), Salmonella enterica might prove to be a hardy pathogen capable of existing in such a solution for months. S. enterica is responsible for typhoid fever in humans. Escherichia coli, though a highly pathenogenic mycobacterium, does not have the same persistance outside of a living host. Both S. enterica and E. coli have detrimental health effects, especially for those with deficient immune systems.

Delivery and dispersion of the weapon would be the next consideration. This would have to be accomplished using a number of distribution points, geographically distant, that transfer small denomination bills easily both in and out, such as gasoline stations, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and liquor stores. Using a website designed to track dollar bills (http://www.wheresgeorge.com), a single bill has been tracked in about two and a half years, as follows: Florida, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Arizona, Oregon, New York, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Another has been documented as travelling from Ohio to Michigan via Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Texas, and Utah in a mere 212 days. This is evidence that general dispersion techniques will work well if initially geographically distributed.

Additionally, as the Salmonella bills are being dispersed, I would encourage a technological attack on various credit card networks. If the hacking results in increased network downtime, the American citizenry would be encouraged to use paper money more often, potentiating the transfer of the Salmonella bills. As a final coup de grace, when the American populace finally begin to realize that the money supply, itself, is tainted, I would encourage conventional attacks on banking institutions to include random bombings, shootings, and threats of the same. This would further drive the message against the U.S. money supply and could crash the economy.

This plan was developed in about twenty minutes. The terrorists of the day have had decades to consider such plans, and I for one am glad that they tend to be grandiose. When the terrorists realize the simplicity required of causing terror in the U.S., we need to be very wary.


Biological terrorism. (2002). Encyclopedia of terrorism. Retrieved from http://sage-ereference.com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/view/terrorism/n76.xml

Marshall, P. (2002, February 22). Policing the borders. CQ Researcher, 12, 145-168. Retrieved from http://library.cqpress.com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/cqresearcher/

Terrorism, definition and history of. (2002). Encyclopedia of terrorism. Retrieved from http://sage-ereference.com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/view/terrorism/n415.xml

U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Engraving. (n.d.). FAQ library. Retrieved from http://www.moneyfactory.gov/faqlibrary.html

Weapons of mass destruction. (2002). Encyclopedia of terrorism. Retrieved from http://sage-ereference.com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/view/terrorism/n453.xml

Winfield, M. D. & Groisman, E. A. (2003). Role of Nonhost Environments in the Lifestyles of Salmonella and Escherichia coli. Applied Environmental Microbiology, 69(7), 3687-3694. doi:10.1128/AEM.69.7.3687-3694.2003

Public Health Risks in the 21st Century

Within the next 30 years, I foresee a significant public health risk of viral pandemic, a concern outlined in the recently published CISIS commission report (Fallon & Gayle, 2010). According to many, the next significant pandemic to be a global threat will occur anytime between now and 70 years (Gostin, 2004; Monto, Comanor, Shay, & Thompson, 2006; Ravilious, 2005; Smil, 2008; Tapper, 2006; Taubenberger, Morens, & Fauci, 2007). Although many scientists have their focus on influenza as the most probable for pandemic exposure, other novel virii, such as SARS, HIV, et al., have the facets to make them just as potentially significant (Gostin, 2004; Smil, 2008; Tapper, 2006). Regardless of the particular pathogen, history has shown pandemics to create and environment of negative net effects to humanity. According to Billings (1997) and Ravilious (2005), the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, caused by a mutated avian flu strain, claimed between 20-million and 40-million lives in a single year (Monto et al., 2006; Taubenberger et al., 2007). Spreading quickly along major international trade routes, the Spanish flu infected many servicemen returning from duty at the end of World War I. As these infected servicemen returned and celebrated the armistice in crowds of people, a severe strain on the public health system in the United States was unknowingly developing. Considering the hypervirilence and increased mortality (2.5%, compared to the typical 0.1%) caused by the 1918 Spaish flu, the world’s economy was in turmoil (Billings, 1997). As most of the American workforce was recently embroiled in overseas combat duty, upon their return they must now face the possibility of infection, an inability to work, and possible death.

Monto et al. (2006) outline a useful model of surveillance techniques that would not only be useful in detecting and improving response to influenza outbreaks, but it would certainly help to detect any new significant diseases that could be a public health risk and threaten a population or society. Additionally, Taubenberger et al. (2007) focuses on learning the biology of the influenza virus to predict the possibility of outbreak and, thus, pandemic potential. Coupling these two approaches makes sense to both identify potential pathogens and use surveillance techniques to track and direct responses to mitigate actual outbreaks as they occur. These efforts, however, should be directed by an organization that values independant operation, impartiality, neutrality, and universality, just a few of the principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movements (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 2010). Adoption of these principles will allow valuable health information to flow freely to other entities positioned to respond appropriately without regard to local politics, ensuring a just and equitable solution to help to mitigate the potential for great harm.


Billings, M. (1997/2005). The influenza pandemic of 1918. Retrieved from http://virus.stanford.edu/uda/

Fallon, W. J. & Gayle, H. D. (2010). Report of the CISIS commission on smart global health policy: A healthier, safer and more prosperous world. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Gostin, L. O. (2004). Pandemic influenza: Public health preparedness for the next global health emergency. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 32(4), 565-573. doi:10.1111/j.1748-720X.2004.tb01962.x

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (2010, July). Haiti: From sustaining lives to sustainable solutions – the challenge of sanitation. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

Monto, A. S., Comanor, L., Shay, D. K., & Thompson, W. W. (2006). Epidemiology of pandemic influenza: use of surveillance and modeling for pandemic preparedness. Journal of Infectious Diseases, 194(Suppl. 2), S92-S97. doi:10.1086/507559

Ravilious, K. (2005, April 14). What a way to go. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/apr/14/research.science2

Smil, V. (2008). Global catastrophes and trends: the next fifty years. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Tapper, M. L. (2006). Emerging viral diseases and infectious disease risks. Haemophilia, 12(Suppl. 1), 3–7. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2516.2006.01194.x

Taubenberger, J. K., Morens, D. M., & Fauci, A. S. (2007). The next influenza pandemic: Can it be predicted? Journal of the American Medical Association, 297(18), 2025–2027. doi:10.1001/jama.297.18.2025.

Botulism: A Measurement of Occurrence

 Botulism, caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacterium, is typically caused by poorly prepared, home-canned foods and can cause symptoms as simple as blurred or double vision to full body paralysis, sometimes causing death (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1996). The incidence of botulism is said to be extremely low with only 126 reported cases in the United States in 2003; with only eight attributable to foodborne vectors, the predominant cause is accidental contamination (CDC, 2004).

One of the concerns regarding botulism is its toxicity. Botulinum toxin is the most potent toxin known to man (CDC, 2006). This potency lends to botulinum’s ability to be used as an agent of bioterrorism, though most of the known cases have been shown to be accidental in nature (CDC, 1996; CDC, 2006). Another concern is the accidental or negligent contamination of any food prepared for wide distribution, such as canned vegetables from a large manufacturer.

Surveillance is important to identify each and every case in order to have the most accuracy possible when considering increasing or decreasing trends of incidence and prevalence of the disease. The cause of any increase or decrease in incidence of botulism should always be investigated.

Any increase of incidence could identify a possible problem while a decreased incidence could foretell efficacy in the efforts of mitigation. More appropriately, though, as Friis and Sellers (2009) show, further identification should be made in order to focus on specific descriptive factors, such as affected populations, the geography of these populations, known vectors, and factors of time. This process will ensure that more accurate trends are observed.

For instance, the CDC (2004) has stated that in a typical year, such as 2004, the incidence of botulism is less than 200. With incidence reporting covering the entire United States, increases or decreases in this crude number serve only to identify general changes in frequency; whereas, further identification of certain characteristics of the disease pattern will help to further isolate affected individuals and etiologies (Friis et al., 2009). Within the CDC’s (2004) data, infant occurrence of botulism is identified as the major contributor to incidence, thereby isolating the remaining occurrences to adults. The CDC has gone further to separate the incidences of botulism into three groups, infant occurrence, foodborne infection, and wound infection. A separate group is reserved for other occurrences relating to the use of pharmacological botulin.

Using descriptive factoring of the 2003 CDC data (2004), further geographic isolation of occurrences show that infant occurring botulism is fairly wide-spread with a small number of incidences in each of twenty-two States, though California and Pennsylvania account for about half of the reported infant occurrences. Foodborne and wound occurrences of botulism were isolated to Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Texas had the only two reportable cases classified as “Other”. Theoretical assumptions can now be used to show that the problem in Texas is resolved but should continue to be monitored, and food safety education projects should focus on home-canning in the western regions of the United States.

In conclusion, epidemiology is an important means of understanding and identifying causation and etiology, as well as preparing for mitigation and outbreak response. In this example of botulism, I have identified localization of the disease, common pathways of infection, or vectors, and means of helping to mitigate future occurrences of the disease. Botulism numbers are quite low, but dealing with other diseases of larger scale, grouping the data into useful subsets will assist in following the progression of the disease from outbreak to outbreak and in consideration of mitigation techniques employed.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1996). Botulism (Clostridium botulinum): 1996 case definition [CSTE Position Statement No. 09-ID-29]. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncphi/disss/nndss/casedef/botulism_current.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2004). Surveillance for Outbreaks of Botulism [Summary of 2003 Data]. Retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/files/Botulism_CSTE_2003.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2006). History of Bioterrorism: Botulism. CDC Emergency Preparedness and You [Podcast]. Washington, DC: CDC Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program.

Friis, R. H., & Sellers, T. A. (2009). Epidemiology for public health practice (4th ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.