The difference between a biological attack and a pandemic seems obvious, one is deliberate and one is a natural occurrence – what many people fail to consider is that that’s the only difference between the two if the biological weapon of choice is contagious and the aim of the attack is to cause death and sickness on a massive scale…which generally is what a biological attack is meant to do.
15 years ago two scientists Tara O’Toole and Thomas Inglesby of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies. The two researchers, working with an array of bodies such as the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security, wanted to see what would happen if a biological attack was launched on the USA. The ‘game’ was called Operation Dark Winter.
It became apparent very quickly that the country was ill prepared for such an attack and therefore it can be assumed, unprepared for a pandemic.
Unprepared means different things to different people so let’s be clear the level of unprepared I am talking about.
The results of Operation Dark Winter showed that:
- Within two weeks there would be enormous civilian casualties, a catastrophic breakdown in essential institutions.
- Mass civil unrest.
- Food supplies, collapsed.
- Electricity and transport infrastructures would all collapse.
As the contagion spread the same things would be happening around the world – not good.
Operation Dark Winter stopped at this point, the researchers had found out what they set out to find out and that was the end of the matter. Sadly in real life that’s far from the end of it.
We know from the Ebola outbreak that there hadn’t been much improvement is isolation beds available. This was evidenced in both the United States and the UK by the hurried conversion of ‘barrier nursing beds’ at other facilities because not enough isolation facilities existed. It seems not much at all has happened since 2001 when the experiment was conducted.
Although many people hate cities and prefer the lifestyle that living in more rural surroundings afford them the fact is that the vast majority of people in the western world live in cities and it’s a doable lifestyle when everything is working well.
Take away any part of the infrastructure though and that changes very fast. Cities are as lethal as any weapon you care to name when things go wrong. It’s not just the pure volume of people that causes the problems, it’s the interdependent supply chains and the peoples dependence on them that causes the issues.
If the bulk of the inhabitants of a city had food and water put by, grew a garden instead of laying a massive lawn and routinely cooked from scratch they would do far better in a crisis situation than the Dark Winter scenario suggests.
It’s the breakdown of the ‘just in time’ food distribution system that would be the kiss of death for people who have a couple of days food on hand. For a glimpse of how it works look what happens every time a serious winter storm is forecast. Store shelves empty within hours of the announcement, queues form at gas stations and on some occasions fights have broken out over the last supplies in the shop. This is a storm of a few days duration, you can imagine what would happen in a situation where the shelves are not going to be refilled for weeks or months.
People competing with each other will result in violence where the strongest literally take what they need from whoever has it. Hunger is a massive motivator and hungry people watching their hurry kids will do whatever they have to to get hold of their next meal.
Add to this a failure of the electricity supply, which will lead to water pumping stations failing and you have the second catastrophe to strike within a short space of time.
At this point we have reached TEOTWAWKI. It really is the end of the world as we know it, and it’s a situation that won’t be rectified for a considerable amount of time.
How long the chaos lasts depends on how bad the attack or pandemic was, how many people died. It takes a huge amount of manpower to keep critical infrastructure running and if a significant proportion of the population is dead then the infrastructure isn’t going to be up and running quickly.
You then get catastrophe three, the disease spread by the sheer amount of unburied bodies, possibly infected from the agent that was used in the attack/caused the pandemic, and from untreated human waste. Uncollected garbage would add to the problems. Rodent infestations would be a massive issue as they can introduce yet more diseases such as plague and Hantavirus.
Filling your basement with coveralls and respirator masks is a start but it really isn’t going to be enough and should be coupled with self-isolation in such a dire scenario. Neither is the food you’ve put by which will be used up if the situation lasts long enough.
Recovery from a biological attack/pandemic could take years depending on the agent used and the mortality rate. I think we have to step up out preparedness, we need to do more and we need to start now. A biological attack may never happen, but a pandemic most certainly will.
Further reading:There are quite a few articles on the site that deal with the issues raised above. To save you hunting here they are:
The time is now.