You are a research analyst for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The department has received credible intelligence from the NSA, FBI, and Department of Defense that Al Qaeda is planning a biological attack using smallpox against Los Angeles, CA. Although the dispersal method is unknown, it is believed the most likely method will be airborne, through a populated shopping mall’s ventilation system. The lax security at these locations, coupled with a wide social and economic population sampling, will make identifying victims and stopping the spread of the disease difficult. The intelligence indicates that the attack is scheduled to occur within 7–10 days.
Your department has been tasked with reviewing historical incidents of smallpox, including academic assessments of its use as a biological agent for terrorism. Use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s smallpox Web site as a guide to available resources and current planning (CDC Smallpox Information). With these tools, develop a communication plan that addresses the following:
- Provide an overview of the threat (disease characteristics).
- How can mass hysteria be prevented within the population?
- What should the federal government share with the state, and can this information be controlled?
- What should the federal government share with the city, and how can this information be controlled?
- What should the federal government share with the nation?
- When should information be disseminated to each recipient (state, city, and nation)?
- What should be the characteristics of this information’s release to the public (consider medium, frequency, and timeliness)?
Overview of the Threat
Smallpox is a contagious, acute, and most cases fatal diseases that is caused by an orthopozvirus variola virus. It symptoms include body and head aches, high fever, and in some cases vomiting. This is followed by a unique rash that spread in the body and eventually pus-filled blisters and bumps which scab, crust and fall off approximately three weeks after, leaving a bumpy scar. Although most people infected by the virus recover, the disease can cause 30% death to the total number of the infected individuals. Majority of survivors are left with permanent scars on most parts of their skin particularly face while some turn blind. There is no yet any treatment for the disease though there is vaccine. The only possible measures are drugs to control fever and antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infection. However, research is going on to establish possible cure for the disease (CDC, 2009).
Smallpox is spread through fairly and direct prolonged physical contact. The virus can also be spread via air in enclosed environment such as trains, buses, and buildings. However, it can also be spread via direct contact with contaminated object that include clothing and bedding or infected fluids from dead bodies. The disease is infectious during the fever onset and turns to be more contagious on rash onset. One remains contagious until the last scab of the disease falls off. The disease has incubation period of about 12 days. Previous research demonstrates that administration of smallpox vaccine within 4 or 3 days after exposure could substantially reduce the disease severity or abort the disease despite of the immunity level of an individuals. The disease was said to be eradicated in 1980 though the United States government has been taking precautions regarding the possibility of its use as a bioterrorist weapon since 2001 terrorist event in the country (CDC, 2009). The current threat should thus be taken serious and preventive measures employed. The possible means of spreading the virus is through air in enclosed settings. Therefore the public should consider avoiding mall and other enclosed regions one week from now.
Prevention of Mass Hysteria within the Population
Mass hysteria refers to swift development of heighted anxiety and fear that translates into immense disruption to the activities and behavior of the involved individuals. Mass hysteria can be very destructive and thus, it should be prevented. The best way to prevent mass hysteria is by identifying the best channel to alert the public about the threat and the right message to give structured in the right way (Balaratnasingam & Janca, 2006). Therefore, the government should ensure that this information is not reported carelessly by the media. Instead, the government should call for a media briefing and address the Los Angeles’ state and the nation in general.
The message should be designed by the Department of Homeland Security with collaboration to the Ministry of Health in the Los Angeles state. The message should be very clear and direct to ensure easy understanding. The message should inform the public about the threat, when it was given and when it should be executed. It should them comfort the nation by informing them the measure the government has employed to ensure that this does not affect the public. It should also warn on areas to avoid and symptoms that should make one rush to the hospital. It should also inform the public of the availability of the vaccine and all other information that should be necessary. The officers in charge should then answer any question from the journalists and the public in general to ensure satisfaction. This will prevent the spread of rumors and incorrect information to the public to cause havoc. Public health officers and psychiatrist should also be made available to handle any case of hysteric attack (Balaratnasingam & Janca, 2006).
Information to be shared between Federal and State Government and Information Control
The federal and the state government should get the whole information as it is without missing any details. This include the entire threat message that include the weapons to be used, anticipated attack period, targeted areas and the total number of population that may be affected if the attack should be carried out in a normal day, and the demographic of the population likely to be affected. The State government should share information on the preventive measures that have been put in the place to prevent the attack as well as its severity to the society with the federal government. In addition, it should share information regarding any problem the state government is experiencing and would like to be assisted as well as the kind of assistance it anticipate. This information should be communicated officially to the federal government through the Department of Homeland Security and Ministry of Health. The information should be communicated through secure channels to ensure that it does not fall in the wrong hands. The federal government should reply to the information or any question officially through secure means (Nsi.ncirc.gov, 2007).
Information the Federal Government needs to Share with the City of Los Angeles and Information Control
The federal government is responsible of the internal security of the entire country. In this regard, it should take the principal role in harnessing the situation. In this regard, the federal government should share information on its support of the state government in harnessing the situation. The information should include extra measures employed to prevent the attack and also, measures employed to prevent the attack severity in case it happens. It should also share information on individual precautions that should be employed to prevent severity of the attacks. Information on areas that should be closed or avoided until the government issues their re-opening should also be provided to the city.
Information Dissemination to the State, City and Nation
The information released to the state, city and nation in general should be channeled through the right channels. Information to be released to the public must be ascertained that it originate officially from the right government offices. It should be aired in media through briefing or printed in national or state newspaper. This information should also be replicated in the DHS website and also in health ministry sites. The public should be warned against uncertified information. Information from the government must be stamped if printed or in media briefing or found in the authorized sites. National information will be done in national broadcasting media or newspapers. State information will be done via states media while city information will either be done through the state media or any other more localized channels (Nsi.ncirc.gov, 2007).
Characteristics of Information Released to the Public
The government should be very particular on the information released to the public. The information should be characterized by a warning stating a possibility of terrorist attack using bioterrorism means (smallpox virus) and the possible duration of attack. It should also include the most vulnerable areas that the public should try to avoid. The information should also contains more details about smallpox disease that include immediate symptoms and advanced symptoms, immediate action after noting the presence of the symptoms, and the advantage of taking immediate action. The information should also eliminate the fear of guaranteed death if infected and inform the public of the high chances of survival if immediate measures are taken. This will prevent havoc and unnecessary excitements.