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Medicine in Uniform
April 7, 1999

Physicians Face Bioterrorism

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JAMA. 1999;281(13):1162. doi:10.1001/jama.281.13.1162-JMU91000-2-1

Potential use of infectious agents and/or noxious chemicals by terrorists in attempts to achieve their goals is being discussed increasingly at medical meetings. This particularly has been the case during sessions this decade of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States. The most recent analysis was last month's conference at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies in Baltimore (JAMA. 1999; 281:1072-1073).

Now, in the latest approach, US Navy medical personnel, in cooperation with a number of organizations on the West Coast, are simulating the terrorist hijacking of a chlorine water-purification truck. Their goal is to determine—especially in terms of communications—how to respond most promptly and effectively. In this scenario, under way in California as part of the 2-month "Kernel Blitz" test of military medical techniques and equipment, terrorists disable the truck at a busy toll plaza, lock its valves open, and unleash a chlorine vapor plume—and panic—for miles around the central coastal part of the state.