Skip main navigation

Emergency response to biosecurity and terrorism events

In this video article Dr David Muscatello outlines the multi-sectoral nature of epidemic emergency responses.
DAVID MUSCATELLO: Hello. I’m Dr David Muscatello, and I’m going to talk a bit about the emergency response to biosecurity and terrorism events. There are many types of emergencies, such as explosions, floods, wildfires, weather events such as typhoons and cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis, and epidemics and pandemics. All of these emergencies have different characteristics and often require different and very specific skills and specific local, national, and international authorities to manage them. A common feature of these emergencies is that first responders are putting their own health and safety at risk. Responders have to have the right equipment, knowledge, support structures, and advice to manage the risk while contributing successfully to the control and management of the event.
Biosecurity and bioterrorism events are characterised by very different features compared with the events just mentioned. There are many different infectious agents. Knowing which one or which ones are involved is not immediately obvious. This is very different to other types of emergencies where the nature of the event is highly visible, such as a typhoon, for example. Different infectious agents also have very different symptoms, treatments, and preventive measures both at the personal level as well as at the community level. It won’t be immediately obvious whether a biosecurity event has occurred naturally or intentionally, although this aspect is secondary to the immediate control measures.
This means it is important to ensure that relevant authorities such as police and military responders are made of where the situation as soon as possible. One thing is sure, that response to a biosecurity event is multi-sectoral because the first signs of an event occurring will be people falling ill. The first responders are likely to come from the health sectors. They may be an ambulance service, hospital emergency department, or even a primary care provider, such as a local doctor or general practitioner. Other sectors may need to be involved that have more experience with large scale emergency management, and if it’s bioterrorism, the police and military may become involved.
No matter what sector a frontline responder comes from, they will have to have the right advice and equipment to ensure they are protected from harm when managing the event. Having the right advice and knowledge requires a certain diagnosis of the causative agent. This requires suitably trained and equipped microbiologists and suitable containment laboratories and equipment. Two particularly important dimensions of protection include personal protective equipment and prophylaxis. Personal protective equipment may include things like face masks, gloves, respirators, and full body coverings. Responders need to know how to correctly choose and use these. Prophylaxis might typically be vaccination against specific infections. Choosing which vaccine and when, why, and how often to be vaccinated requires a great deal of knowledge and preparation.
There might also be post exposure prophylaxis such as medication that treats the infection. Authorities may have to maintain stockpiles of personal protective equipment and prophylactic vaccines and medications. Managing exposure and fear of exposure to a bioterrorism agent will be an important element of the emergency response. Because infectious agents aren’t visible to the eye, people may believe they’ve been exposed when they haven’t been, or alternatively, may be complacent about believing that they haven’t been or won’t be exposed. Integrating the response to bioterrorism and preparedness for the response to bioterrorism into the more visible and more expected types of emergencies remains a continuing challenge.
In this presentation, we describe how biothreat emergencies compare with other types of emergencies that affect populations. We discuss the multi-sectoral nature of those emergencies and some of the particular personal safety and protective factors and equipment that need to be considered. Because they don’t happen very often on a large scale, maintaining preparedness for these types of emergencies is an ongoing challenge.
After watching this video, in the comments section below discuss your answers to the following questions:
  1. Can you think of some particular aspects of managing patients in a biosecurity emergency that would need to be addressed?
  2. How would these aspects differ if you were an ambulance officer, a hospital, a local doctor, or a police officer?
This article is from the free online

Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Public Health Dimensions

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education