What if I told you that a government report indicates a high probability that somebody will release a contagious virus in Kansas in the future? How would you react to this bioterror alert?
What if I told you that the U.S. government could do something to stop this bioterror threat? How would you react if I told you that the government had decided not to intervene?
These statements are true, but they’re probably not what you think. The National Research Council has released a report (news release | full text) criticizing the US Department of Homeland Security for failing to seriously consider and respond to the risks of a viral release from the government’s planned National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas. The installation, designed to replace the aging Plum Island research station in New York State, lacks natural barriers to the spread of the viruses. For that reason, it’s estimated by the NRC and DHS that a virus release from the facility is 70% likely within the next 50 years.
That such a release would be accidental rather than intentional, and that the virus considered affects agricultural animals rather than humans, does not diminish the potential economic damage (valued at $9 to $50 billion) of a viral release, and neither would it diminish the terrorizing impact of such an event on the people affected. That the release would be due to the mistakes of a government agency rather than to terrorists only increases the responsibility of the government to make sure it gets its security systems straight.