Friday, December 08, 2006

Agroterrorism: Local Law Enforcement, You're in Charge

The Department of Justice (DOJ) just published a really interesting 4-page research brief on agroterrorism. According to the report, one aspect of our preparedness is falling far short:

Many believe that public health officials would lead the response to an agroterrorism attack, but this might not be the case. The laws of most States require that such an event be handled as a crime scene investigation, giving law enforcement primary responsibility. Ill-equipped to handle the magnitude of responsibilities that would follow an act of agroterrorism, local police departments would be pushed to the limit.
For example, how many law enforcement agencies - especially smaller agencies in rural areas - are ready to do this:
Research points to the first priority of local law enforcement after an agroterrorist attack: establishing and enforcing a 6-mile radius quarantine (113 square miles) around the point of origin to control the spread of the virus. The second priority would be to set up statewide roadblocks to enforce stop-movement orders. Such a tremendous effort— requiring that all vehicles coming into or going out of the impacted State be stopped and inspected— would require a coordinated response by local, State, and Federal officials.
In the brief, DOJ points out that, by the USDA's estimate, the economic cost to taxpayers of a major foot-and-mouth outbreak could be $60 billion (and a DHS official recently estimated the cost would be in the hundreds of billions). Given this, the DOJ calls for action:
Because terrorists rely on a lack of preparedness, law enforcement agencies should start now to develop a plan for preventing an agroterrorism attack—and the interruption of basic services, civil and emotional stress, and public health concerns that likely would follow.
DOJ also provides some specific steps local law enforcement can take:
On the local level, law enforcement agencies bear a responsibility for intelligence gathering … Local jurisdictions are also in the best position to conduct vulnerability studies of area farms and feedlots.
And perhaps most importantly at the beginning - DOJ suggests whom to collaborate with:
Partnerships—the best way to prevent an agroterrorism attack and the only way to contain one—must be created among local farmers, truckers, feedlot owners, and other critical members of the food-supply chain. A working relationship between criminal investigators and veterinarians and animal and plant health inspectors must be established.
The brief is sort of a good primer for preparedness: There is a threat. We are not fully ready or organized for it. Dealing with the threat could be a massive undertaking. So to get ready, we need to work together and plan now.

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