Bioterrorism Disaster Preparedness

Bioterrorism is a potential disaster that every hospital should be prepared to deal with.  There are many ways in which biological agents could be used against a civilian population.  In 2001, letters with Anthrax were sent to members of the U.S. Congress.  This is an example of bioterrorism on a small scale, but acute-care hospitals should be prepared to care for a large number of casualties resulting from a biological attack.

            A sudden, large influx of infected people may result from such an attack.  This would cause demand for patient rooms and antibiotics to treat patients with.  To avoid being overwhelmed in such an emergency, hospitals should stockpile antibiotics and carefully maintain their lines of communication. When hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, electrical grids and service towers were disabled by flooding and wind damage.  This prevented effective communication and left many in the city stranded (Beizer, D, 2006, August 21).

            Communication among first responders and clear orders from chains of command can potentially save hundreds of lives.  In disasters past, communication has broken down time and again.  During the attack of 9/11 in New York, rescuers did not know which area hospitals to take their casualties to (AT&T : Trend Report: Government, 2007). They had no immediate communication that would inform them of which hospitals had beds available or could perform certain procedures. 

            Like a natural disaster or a plane crash, bioterrorism could affect hundreds or thousands of people.  Unlike natural disasters, a bioterrorist attack is not likely to physically destroy means of communications.  However, chaos, confusion and panic could be widespread and this in itself presents a barrier to critical messages.

            In order to prepare for bioterrorism leaders should do everything we can to facilitate clear communication with outside personnel who would respond to an emergency in our area.  This may include finding out what radio frequencies the local firefighters use and then tuning our own frequencies to the same.  Managers and administrators should appoint a committee to meet monthly and oversee emergency preparedness measures.  They should ensure that there is constant, clear communication with such entities as local police, firefighters, mayor’s office and any public transit authorities such as airports and bus stations. 

            An important concept to remember is that communication goes both ways.  We should be able to convey important messages, and also should be informed as quickly as possible when a disaster occurs.