Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Bioterrorism: Risk Assessment and Fear Factor

That probably got your attention. I went to a symposium on the above topic today; very enlightening. First, some general impressions. The biologists and engineers involved are quite level-headed about the prospects of bioterrorism, and seem eager to help any way they can. The general feel I got from the session is that the agents that would be easy to get, relatively speaking, are not going to cause a "The Stand" like epidemic, but that a smallpox attack is really the big WMD-like threat, but very hard to get. The engineer from Lawrence Livermore had some interesting things to say about applying Quantitative Risk Assessment to the problem, but the upshot is that QRA can provide an estimate of the probability of a given attack, and a putative outcome, but is only as good as the input information. Still, it can obviously guide our thoughts as we try and design countermeasures, either in terms of surveillance and detection, or modes of response. I will give a more detailed recounting of the session on Thursday, as well as some good stuff about ancient bacteria stuck in salt crystals.