Today’s guest blogger is “Donald Quixote” Don comments frequently on Homeland Security Watch. He writes under what he likes to call his nom de guerre because his agency frowns on its employees posting material without agency approval.
The House Committee on Homeland Security recently passed the Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act (HR 5997)/ (HR 1791) authorizing the expansion of the use of existing grant programs for enhancing medical preparedness, medical surge capacity and mass prophylaxis capabilities during a natural disaster or terrorist attack. Reportedly, it does not furnish any additional funding, but provides the ability to leverage the Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program.
The pending bill can be viewed from several different perspectives. The optimist may view this initial accomplishment as Congress finally addressing a very serious threat of a chemical or biological attack that may be looming, or — rather more likely — the threat of a serious novel pandemic illness. The pessimist may view it as the continued, wider distribution of limited resources between numerous partners in the ever-vague world of homeland security (whatever that entails, but that is another conversation). I tend to believe it is both.
According to a Los Angeles Times article, the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus killed 10 times more than previously estimated by the World Health Organization. A study published in the journal PLOS Medicine estimated the number that died was 203,000. Although the number appears quite small when compared to the current world population and the momentous number that perished during the H1N1 Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, it remains a relevant number, if accurate, as a warning indicator.
However, how many of us truly appreciate the conceivably massive cascading consequences of a serious novel pandemic threat?
Are MERS, SARS, H1N1, H5N1 and H7N9 warning shots over the bow or just natural occurrences that come and go over time without serious implications?
The topic of biosecurity is not new to this blog. Mr. Bogis and Mr. Wolfe have identified numerous areas of interest regarding the funding and resources already appropriated for biosecurity and biodefense. There have been valuable discussions and debates regarding the perceived and actual risks and returns on investment. The practical value of the previous investments and effectiveness of the many programs shall remain the subject of debate until they are partially or fully tested by an incident or event.
In the realm of a serious novel pandemic illness, I controversially continue to argue that it could easily outrank a conventional terrorist attack as a current threat due to the possibly catastrophic consequences to our citizens, critical infrastructure and civil stability on a broader scale.
We can only ignore the low-probability\high-consequence biological attack or serious novel pandemic illness threat until it happens. Unfortunately, there is a long history of ignoring this threat because of limited resources and impaired strategic vision.
The Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act, if ultimately enacted, may affect some change in this area or at least spark interest in expanded medical preparedness.