Our hometown heroes – emergency medical services, police, firefighters, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, public health professionals – are on the front lines keeping us safe. Maybe it’s from a flash flood from a stalled rainstorm. Perhaps it’s from a derailed train carrying hazardous liquids. These types of incidents can be handled with resources provided by local and state governments, but when events are severe – widespread in scope and damage – they may require intervention by our federal government. Whether it’s a terrorist attack (e.g., September 11, 2001) or a natural disaster (e.g., Hurricane Katrina), the nation will quickly step up and respond, offering additional support and funding.
Unfortunately, there is grave concern that a large-scale biological event will prove to be the exception to this rule. Devastation could be vast and swift, and local resources would be very quickly depleted. The thousands of state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) governments that are the backbone of our nation will have to fend for themselves for far too long until federal assets arrive, and Congress can provide emergency supplemental funding to support response and recovery.
In October 2015, the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense issued its first report, A National Blueprint for Biodefense: Leadership and Major Reform Needed to Optimize Efforts. The majority of the report’s recommendations focused on our national government, touching only briefly on SLTT needs. The Panel promised to return to them later and revisited these issues during a special focus meeting on the campus of the University of Miami in January 2018. The Panel explored needed SLTT emergency medical services, hospital, pharmacy, laboratory, and public health department capabilities and capacities necessary to respond to large-scale biological events.
The Panel found that basic biological preparedness, response, and recovery infrastructure varies widely throughout the United States, placing the entire nation at risk. If one community, for example, does not have access to a laboratory in their state that can quickly identify a biological threat, then they are immediately vulnerable and so are those who live in bordering states. It reminds us that states, localities, tribes, and territories play a huge role in national security. The panel would like to see state governors, territorial governors and administrators, tribal leaders, mayors, borough council presidents, and township supervisors make biodefense a greater priority before biological attacks, accidents, outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics place the lives of their constituents at risk.