A panel of doctors, scientists and bio-terrorism experts has unveiled a guide to help urban residents prepare and respond to acts of terrorism.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the anthrax-contaminated postal scare that followed, prompted publication of a primer that will help people understand the real risks of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats and how to cope with them.
Elizabeth Whelan is president of The American Council on Science and Health, the consumer group that released the guide to terrorism preparedness and response. It is aimed at New Yorkers, but contains information that will be useful to all.
Dr. Whelan says fear and confusion have led people to take measures and buy protective items that do not work, while more basic forms of protection that could save lives go ignored.
"You do not need duct tape. In the event of an aerosol release of chemical, biological or radiological agents, simply closing the windows and turning off the ventilation system will protect you," she said. "Forget the masks, the parachutes and the home radiation devices. Gas masks are only intended for short-term use and would offer protection only if worn at the exact moment of the release of the toxic substance."
A lack of credible information has caused Americans to fear the unlikeliest forms of terrorist attacks, while real threats are underestimated, notes Dr. Ron Crystal, a physician at New York's Weill Cornell Medical School. "The likeliest type of attack is biologic because it's simple. The organisms other than smallpox are readily available and naturally occurring in nature, and science has trained considerable numbers, tens of thousands of people, over the years in many, many countries in terms of how to deal with infectious agents," he said. "If one can obtain these organisms, to grow them and then learn to disperse them is not very difficult. And when you put that in the context of individuals who are willing to give up their lives for their own purposes, biologic terrorism is probably the most realistic of what would happen."
The guide assesses the risk of various terrorist agents, and offers practical advice on how to respond in an emergency. The American Council on Science and Health says several U.S. corporations are considering buying the guide for their employees.
The guide can be purchased through the Council's website, www.acsh.org.