Report card: US unprepared for bio attack, outbreak

The U.S. is not ready to deal with a large-scale bio-terrorism attack or deadly disease outbreak, according to a new report issued on Wednesday by the Bipartisan WMD Terrorism Research Center.

The “report card” issued by the WMD Center, which is led by former Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.), found that scientific advances in biotechnology over the last 10 years have given terrorists a greater level of widespread access to biological weapons.

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And, despite spending more than $65 billion on bio-defense in the last decade, the U.S. government is under-prepared to combat large-scale attacks that could devastate significant portions of the U.S. population.

“A thinking enemy, armed with biological weapons, could change the very nature of America — our economy, our government, and even our social structure,” said Graham in a statement. “America does not yet have adequate bio-response capability to meet fundamental expectations during a large-scale biological event.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) called the findings “disturbing” and pushed for Congress to approve his Homeland Security Authorization Act of 2012, which he said addresses some of the issues raised in the report.  

The report measured seven categories: detection and diagnosis, attribution, communication, the availability of a medical countermeasure, medical management and environmental cleanup.

In the event of a large-scale biological attack with an epidemic number of illnesses or deaths affecting one or more cities, the report gave the U.S. mostly “D” letter grades, with a “C” in communication.

The report card did find, however, that the United States’s ability to respond to a relatively small-scale attack — such as the 2001 anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill — has significantly improved over the past 10 years.

The WMD Center said President Obama and Congress should push to develop an “end-to-end, strategic assessment of the nation’s bio-response capabilities” to better prepare for a future biological attacks.

Graham and Talent previously led the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism — the WMD Commission.