Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 23, 2006

DHS inspectors unable to halt bird entry

Filed under: Biosecurity — by Christian Beckner on April 23, 2006

The AP reported today on the fact that agricultural inspectors at airports feel that they don’t have sufficient resources to keep bird flu out of the country:

Homeland Security Department inspectors at U.S. airports don’t have enough training to keep a deadly strain of bird flu from getting into the country, a union official is charging, citing the handling of live birds found in the luggage of a passenger from Vietnam.

Gaps in front-line protections were on display this week when a customs official at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was confused about how to properly quarantine the three cages of birds, Alejandra Scaffa, vice president of the National Association of Agriculture Employees, said Friday. Vietnam is among the nations that have been hit the hardest by the deadly disease….

Scaffa, a Homeland Security agriculture specialist at JFK, said inspectors have gotten only scant training on how to handle possible bird flu carriers. Official guidance generally consists of updates on where the flu has spread, and a 30-minute video that advises wearing protective masks and gloves when dealing with risky passengers or cargo, she said.

“Otherwise, DHS has not done a thing,” Scaffa said.

You know what? The avian flu is going to hit the bird population in the United States soon, irrespective of any improvements to point-of-entry inspections – most likely via the normal migratory paths of wild birds. It’s a waste of scarce resources to take extraordinary measures to try to stop it. Instead, we need to be focusing our resources on preparing for a mutated strain that facilitates human-to-human transmission. Such a straing would be spread globally in days due to modern air travel, irrespective of the current presence of bird-to-human transmission. That’s the real threat, and inspectors should be focusing their training today on the detection of sick people entering the country.

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