Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution Project Topics

A Seminar on Bioterrorism and Conflict Management

A Seminar on Bioterrorism and Conflict Management

A Seminar on Bioterrorism and Conflict Management


Objectives of the study

  1. To examine the concept of bioterrorism
  2. To examine the role of Public Health and Medical Community in Response to Bioterrorist Attack
  3. To examine crisis management in bioterrorism attack


History of bioterrorism

Bioterrorism is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, toxins or other harmful agents to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants.

By the time World War I began, attempts to use anthrax were directed at animal populations. This generally proved to be ineffective.

Shortly after the start of World War I, Germany launched a biological sabotage campaign in the United States, Russia, Romania, and France. At that time, Anton Dilger lived in Germany, but in 1915 he was sent to the United States carrying cultures of glanders, a virulent disease of horses and mules. Dilger set up a laboratory in his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He used stevedores working the docks in Baltimore to infect horses with glanders while they were waiting to be shipped to Britain. Dilger was under suspicion as being a German agent, but was never arrested. Dilger eventually fled to Madrid, Spain, where he died during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. In 1916, the Russians arrested a German agent with similar intentions. Germany and its allies infected French cavalry horses and many of Russia’s mules and horses on the Eastern Front. These actions hindered artillery and troop movements, as well as supply convoys.

In 1972, police in Chicago arrested two college students, Allen Schwander and Stephen Pera, who had planned to poison the city’s water supply with typhoid and other bacteria. Schwander had founded a terrorist group, “R.I.S.E.”, while Pera collected and grew cultures from the hospital where he worked. The two men fled to Cuba after being released on bail. Schwander died of natural causes in 1974, while Pera returned to the U.S. in 1975 and was put on probation.

In 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the eradication of smallpox, a highly contagious and incurable disease. Although the disease has been eliminated in the wild, frozen stocks of smallpox virus are still maintained by the governments of the United States and Russia. Disastrous consequences are feared if rogue politicians or terrorists were to get hold of the smallpox strains. Since vaccination programs are now terminated, the world population is more susceptible to smallpox than ever before.

In Oregon in 1984, followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh attempted to control a local election by incapacitating the local population. This was done by infecting salad bars in 11 restaurants, produce in grocery stores, doorknobs, and other public domains with Salmonella typhimurium bacteria in the city of The Dalles, Oregon. The attack infected 751 people with severe food poisoning. There were no fatalities. This incident was the first known bioterrorist attack in the United States in the 20th century. It was also the single largest bioterrorism attack on U.S. soil.

In June 1993, the religious group Aum Shinrikyo released anthrax in Tokyo. Eyewitnesses reported a foul odor. The attack was a failure, because it did not infect a single person. The reason for this is due to the fact that the group used the vaccine strain of the bacterium. The spores which were recovered from the site of the attack showed that they were identical to an anthrax vaccine strain that was given to animals at the time. These vaccine strains are missing the genes that cause a symptomatic response.




The threat of bioterrorism has existed since the days of antiquity, dating back to the poisoning of community water supplies in ancient times and more recently manifested in the1983 Oregon salmonella attack and the 2001 U.S. anthrax attacks. Nevertheless, little contingency planning for dealing with bioterrorism had, at the time of this survey, been undertaken either separately or collectively by the many public and private organizations that in one way or another might be confronted with the daunting task of dealing with such an attack. According to this study, 70% of those interviewed say their companies have crisis management plans in place, but only 12% specifically deal with bioterrorism. Seventy percent say their corporations are not prepared for the threat of bioterrorism, and yet more than 90% acknowledge that a bioterrorism act could have “severe consequences” for their corporation. These results raise significant public health concerns and cast doubt on the readiness of corporations to deal with the threat of bioterrorism.

For an effective response to a bioterrorism attack there is a need for a realistic response plan. This must include not only activities requested during crisis situation, but also coherent and permanent preparedness activity. Expanded public health laboratory capacity, increased and improved surveillance and response to outbreaks capabilities and capacities, communication within medical and pharmaceutical communities, along with strong connections at all level of local and public authorities are necessary to ensure a coherent and efficient response in case of bioterrorist attack.


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