In 1818, Mary Shelley first described her expedition into “murky subterranean passages” within the trapezoid cavern of Cumaean Sibyl near Naples, Italy. It was here in the cave so frequently described in Virgil’s first century Eclogues and Æneid that Shelley asserts she discovered the ancient apocalyptic writings of the Roman prophetess Cumaean Sybil recorded on oak leaves. Translating and editing the Sibylline Prophecies, Mary Shelley published The Last Man in 1826.
Described as “a memory at the end of history,” The Last Man begins, “let me fancy myself as I was in 2094,” and continues to describe an horrific plague that destroys mankind as a species. The Last Man would become the first modern account of an apocalyptic pandemic, and, disturbingly, would be written as a nihilist narrative in a post-human era.[i]
Contagion, the transmission of disease, has always been a unique entity, surpassing all potential cataclysms with its singular characteristic of being entirely sovereign and non-discriminatory. Borderless, apolitical, and smugly defiant disease has spread, multiplied, and mutated—and has historically shown deference to no one.
A Pox on Both Your Houses–Ring Around the Rosy: Ashes, Ashes
Though mortality estimates of pandemics throughout history are often unreliable (if not entirely unknown), their impact has often been measured only by these statistics, with less examination of concurrent societal disruption. With the exception of medical and scientific study, epidemics were understood mostly within their literary and classical context. Children’s songs, nursery rhymes, and colloquialisms would hint of their impact, but nothing in recent memory would demand the serious attention of many in western society. The sustained scourge of AIDS is familiar in concept, but easily dismissed unless there is direct involvement. Ebola, cholera, plague, Marburg, SARS, and anthrax are serious sounding, but largely irrelevant to the generations raised in a society of “eradication,” vaccines, and fix-‘em-fast antibiotics.
There has been growing concern among experts of the fast-rising density of human populations and the immediate need to strategize to avoid high death tolls in inevitable natural disasters. Similarly, public health experts warn that vigilance and speed in tracking and responding to disease outbreaks is vital to limit the chances of a pandemic.
Every age in history has had its plagues, wars, and disasters. What is different about our world today is the enormous potential of a catastrophic pandemic situation. A public health emergency at this level would be far more catastrophic than any other type of naturally occurring, accidental, or other instigated event the world has ever experienced.
Who’s Who–The Names behind the Letters
In early September 2000, 152 heads of state, the largest assembly of world leaders in history, gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for The Millennium Summit, with the purpose of adopting The UN Millennium Declaration, which commits the nations to a “new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015…”.[ii]
These “target” purposes are outlined in eight specific objectives and are defined as “The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” and were adopted by all 189 member states of the United Nations General Council and have been proclaimed as “a defining moment for global cooperation in the 21st century.”[iii] These eight objectives are:
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development
It is under “The Millennium Declaration Goal No. 6 (MDG 6)” that the united global effort to combat disease would commit financial, academic, field, and trial resources and through which all ensuing programs and commitments would be ultimately patrolled and controlled.[iv]
September 25, 2008, at the historic midpoint of the MDGs program, leaders from around the world once again convened to reaffirm their governments’ commitment to reach the articulated goals. This convention would be given the designation of “UN High-level Event.”
“I am grateful for all the energy invested in this High-level Event by developed and developing countries, civil society, faith groups, foundations and the private sector. …My great hope for today was that all development partners would join forces to accelerate MDG progress. We have succeeded. We did this together. And now, we must forge ahead. We must make it happen.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
September 25, 2008[v]
During the years that the nations of the world pursued collaborative energies to effectively meet “Millennium Declaration Goal No. 6,” through health and social programs for developing and substandard nations, Hollywood had begun a program of inoculating the more comfortably preoccupied masses with remarkably prescient bio-threat scenarios such as I Am Legend, Outbreak, The Stand, and V for Vendetta. And it was during these years that very real and prolific research programs began to notice that life forms confined to the microscopic realm were changing—rapidly, sometimes predictably, often unpredictably, and in some instances, chillingly purposefully.
It has been only within the past five years that serious attention and discussion of infectious threats have taken place at a popular level, and these have been limited for the most part to ingestible mad cow/Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and avian influenza strains. These too, however, are fast succumbing to the social fatigue of media hype. No one can identify a specific pandemic agent with absolute certainty, but it might be possible to determine the most likely.
Under the Internet umbrella is a massive collection of data, documentation, and detail—and perhaps a deterministic hint. The proportional ratio of available literature and guidelines for influenza is, by comparison to other potential pandemic threats, in such stark contrast that one could entertain the suspicion that influenza pandemic is actually an orchestrated effort.
“Some will say this discussion of the Avian Flu is an overreaction. Some may say, “Did we cry wolf?” The reality is that if the H5N1 virus does not trigger pandemic flu, there will be another virus that will.
Secretary Mike Levitt
Department of Health and Human Services
November 2, 2005[vi]
Newly developed and otherwise newly emerging strains are designated “novel”: their patterns are not yet determined. The World Health Organization’s guidelines for humanitarian agencies explains that “When a major change in surface proteins occurs spontaneously, a new subtype can emerge that has not previously circulated in humans, and to which no one will have full immunity. If this new virus also has the capacity to spread efficiently and in a sustained manner from person to person, an influenza pandemic can occur.”[vii]
But while pandemics are broad in effect, the toxicity of the operative pathogen needs to be carefully balanced. A pandemic virus emerges via two principal mechanisms: reassortant and adaptive mutation.
The World Health Organization describes past pandemics as the “epidemiological equivalent of a flash flood,” often beginning abruptly, without warning, and sweeping “through populations with ferocious velocity,”[viii] leaving considerable damage in their wake. WHO also notes a predictable feature of pandemics: the tendency to recur in waves, often with a stronger, more virulent mutation of the affecting agent: “Subsequent waves often began simultaneously in several different parts of the world, intensifying the abrupt disruption at the global level.”[ix]
The United States Department of Homeland Security projects the potential effect of pandemic influenza on the United States population: “The clinical disease attack rate will be 30 percent in the overall population during the pandemic. Illness rates will be highest among school-aged children (about 40 percent) and decline with age. Among working adults, an average of 20 percent will become ill during a community outbreak.”[x]
The eventuality of a global pandemic of unprecedented scope has been the singular priority within the international response community for years. There has never been a discussion of “if” there will be another global pandemic; there have only been the best estimates of “when,” and within the space of weeks a pandemic could affect multiple communities, nations, and regions simultaneously. Likewise, there are coincident factors that would depend upon the status of regional (or available) infrastructure, and all include variables at different, and often unstable, levels.
These “Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources” (“CI/KR”) are the focus of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Pandemic Influenza guide. The eighty-four page document introduces the crucial nature of infrastructure integrity in section 1.3:
The mounting risk of a worldwide influenza pandemic poses numerous potentially devastating consequences for critical infrastructure in the United States. A pandemic will likely reduce dramatically the number of available workers in all sectors, and significantly disrupt the movement of people and goods, which will threaten essential services and operations within and across our nation’s CI/KR sectors.
Industries in every sector of the critical infrastructure will experience pandemic impacts. Given today’s highly mobile population, disease outbreaks may occur simultaneously throughout the country, making the reallocation of human and material resources more difficult than in other disaster or emergency situations.[xi]
As thorough preparedness at every level is imperative, it is prudent to examine the manner of response contingent upon sociobiological realities, specifically, a pandemic “situation” as it would be managed with:
Comparatively intact critical infrastructure/key resources (CIKR)
Substantial impairment of critical infrastructure/key resources (CI/KR)
In 2008, WHO published the Operational Procedures for Event Management for international public health security, drafted within the context of communicable diseases, but adoptable for all hazards—chemical, biological, radio-nuclear, etc.[xii] Having established guidelines for risks or events which are or have the potential to be of international concern, WHO’s International Health Regulations (2005) identifies and mandates protocol when public health security across international borders is threatened.[xiii]
The parameters themselves can vary widely within WHO’s 193 member nations. International collective oversight permits the management and distribution of resources to appropriately designated vectors from the most technologically superior western standard to the less developed and often balkanized nations.
If specific threats are identified as “extreme and rare,” the director-general of WHO may declare events to be “Public Health Emergencies of International Concern” (PHEIC) with provision to assess, coordinate, and manage the identified emergency. It is through WHO’s International Health Regulations, IHR, that rules are established that member states must follow in the identification and management of disease outbreaks.[xiv]
Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, said in a news release, “Given today’s universal vulnerability to these threats, better security calls for global solidarity… International public health security is both a collective aspiration and a mutual responsibility. The new watchwords are diplomacy, cooperation, transparency and preparedness.”[xv]
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As if in precise commemoration of the 91st anniversary of the H1N1, Spanish flu pandemic that began on March 11, 1918, the spring months of March and April 2009 brought a “quadruple reassortant” novel virus of two genes of European and Asian swine, one of avian origin and one human element, triggering alarm within the scientific community who recognize the anomalous construction of the agent.[xvi]
In accordance with the prescribed initiatives for pandemic guidelines, the World Health Organization’s operational procedures were immediately launched. While the elevated status Public Health Emergencies of International Concern (PHEIC) is by internal documentation an “extraordinary event,” Director-General Margaret Chan took little time before pronouncing a pandemic emergency in late April. Shortly thereafter, WHO elevated the threat phase from 4 to 5: one phase below full pandemic status.[xvii]
While the strategic benefits of cooperative oversight and management are enormous, the language, range, and levels of control contained within the official documents are boldly unambiguous and broadly comprehensive. There are specific and repeated references to “legal” compliance.
Participating as necessary in the event management process to advise on the legal adherence to the IHR (2005)
International Health Regulations (2005) [IHR (2005)] – International legal instrument that is binding on 194 countries, including all the Member States of WHO. Their aim is to help the international community prevent and respond to acute public health risks that have the potential to cross borders and threaten people worldwide[xviii] (emphasis added).
In the United States, a federal or local public declaration of a health emergency is essentially considered to be a suspension of long-held constitutional rights. The suspension of personal sovereignty, even on a temporary basis, is difficult under the best of circumstances. Many who carefully scrutinize temporary or drill/preparation scenarios have genuine and defensible concerns.
The use of private property, the rationing of health care services and supplies, the threat or the actual implementation of isolation and quarantine procedures, and the possibility of enforced curfew or a martial law situation raise reasonable and presumably expected apprehension. As of this writing, there is the appearance of limited pandemic control, but there is also a sustained public recognition of the potential for abuse of authority, even due to poor communication, during these periods.
Comparatively Intact Critical Infrastructure/Key Resources (CI/KR)
First world status implies access to reasonably intact and operative modern medical standards, and while pandemic crises are not trivial, they are not likely to be catastrophic. Though it is far too early to accurately assess the April 2009 outbreak of H1N1, it would appear that this is a very limited example.
Living conditions in many regions of central Mexico have historically been crowded with limited access to medical facilities as well as somewhat sub-standard baseline nutritional and overall health. The same biological agent responsible for increased morbidity and mortality in Mexico had significantly lesser effect on comparable hosts in the United States and Western Europe.
Such findings have been historically demonstrated by contrasting cultures, geography and demographics. Risk areas are assessed, disease progression surmised, and trends projected through regional and global monitoring. Statistical models are then developed and event management directed and coordinated.
Substantial Impairment of Critical Infrastructure/Key Resources (CI/KR)
Vulnerability Assessment: CI/KR
Using present-day North American and Western European models as context in a pre-event assessment of CI/KR, consideration must be given to the likelihood of limitations to regional and international traffic and commerce as a causative: a result of the event itself. The reason(s) for impairment, whether single or multiple, would not necessarily be immediately evident. This model would also carry no expectation of near-term abatement or available response or support infrastructure.
Although the endless roster of variables within a catastrophic scenario would be far too lengthy to enumerate, all additional consequences would amplify already severely limited resources. Additionally, it would be expected that within even the most sophisticated cultural situations, there would be limited experience in the management of contaminated environments.
Dark Agendas: Biowarfare’s ‘Invisible’ Army
The unpleasant reality of biological warfare begins in its ancient past and ends in a time yet forward. Ancient lore speaks of Apollo as a god who could bring ill health and deadly plague as well as the one possessing the ability to cure. Legends describe Apollo shooting plague-infected arrows into the Greek encampment during the Trojan War. From poisoning enemy wells, hurling corpses over city walls, or giving smallpox-ridden blankets to American Indians, it is difficult to grasp the concept of being assaulted by a living, albeit microscopic, enemy.
But the plagues of history past bear little resemblance to their emergent constructs. As science continued its quest for unlocking DNA, a parallel priority—with a far more sinister agenda—was already growing, and on the loose. Designed for maximum casualties and high emotional impact, this nano-army can be crafted for ethnic specific targeting.
“Genetic engineering for biological agents? There’d be no protection. These are weapons of the future and the future is coming closer.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense
If history could teach mankind anything, it would be that we’ve not yet chosen to understand it. Despite warnings and flags, these unseen warriors are eager to meet their new hosts and are prepared to launch a new campaign, promising to reveal themselves in all of their horror in an unprecedented spectacular finale.
In Plague Wars: The Terrifying Reality of Biological Warfare, authors Tom Mangold and Jeff Goldberg assert:
Biological weapons are both more immoral and more lethal than their pestilential cohorts in the nuclear and chemical armoury, for infecting the enemy aggressor can infect his own side; the pathogens blur the lines between peace and war as they silently spread through the ranks of families and non-combatants… [xx]
… To contemplate their use is to wink at evil, for pestilence and poison are afflictions as much as weapons.[xxi]
National security and intelligence must function in a complex and increasingly unsteady international environment. The element of strategic surprise can be a formidable weapon or a powerful adversary.
Authors M. Wheelis, L. Rozsa, and M. Dando analyze the often contradictory historical developments of three central issues of biological weapon research since World War II in Deadly Cultures, Biological Weapons since 1945:
Why have states continued or begun programs for acquiring biological weapons? Why have states terminated biological weapons programs? How have states demonstrated that they have truly terminated their biological weapons programs?
Despite the shifting view of the nature of the BW [biological weapon] threat, it has been evident for over 60 years that biological agents can be used to cause mass casualties and large-scale economic damage…
…Contemporary concerns relate largely to the threat of BW acquisition and use by rogue states or by terrorists. However, the BW threat has much deeper roots, and it has changed markedly…
…During most of the Cold war period, major global powers invested substantial resources to develop a strategic BW capability aimed at the military forces, civilian populations, or agricultural resources of their adversaries. Indeed, early in this period BW were considered to rival nuclear weapons in strategic importance.[xxii]
In a little over a hundred years we have moved from a situation of almost total ignorance to a significant understanding of pathogens and the diseases they, and the toxins they produce, cause in humans, animals and plants. Our already considerable capabilities to use this knowledge for good or, regrettably, for ill are being profoundly enhanced by the ongoing genomics revolution in the life sciences. There must indeed be a risk that in the coming century such knowledge may be used for hostile purposes and in warfare.[xxiii]
With the comparatively recent explosion within microbiological field study, and specifically DNA, it is becoming increasingly popular to advance biologic “novelties.” Glow-in-the-dark pups, fish, and plants vie for media attention and capital while less glamorous but decidedly more dramatic are the bio products that find their places in dark circles but seek a more pernicious and indelible glow.
Some More Exotic than Others
Located off the northeast coast of Long Island, New York, beyond Montauk, the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) is a Level 3 Biosafety Agriculture facility. Transferred in 2002 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Plum Island is a federal facility for the research and investigation of foreign and domestic animal pathogens. Plum Island’s offshore status allows the study of forbidden mainland organisms, but has recently been the subject of serious East Coast tsunami-related vulnerabilities and concerns.
Plum Island’s mission of diagnosis, research, and education permits the housing of freezers that contain samples of polio and other microbial diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans that have, in the past, been compromised by weather-related issues. Plum Island’s directives are managed under Homeland Security Presidential Directive, HSPD-9.[xxiv]
UP NEXT: NEST—Nuclear Energy Support Team, U.S. Department of Energy
[i]Lisa Hopkins, Memory at the End of History, Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man,” Romanticism on the Net 6, http://www.erudit.org/revue/ron/1997/v/n6/005746ar.html (April 7, 2009).
[ii]UN Millennium Project, “Millennium Project,” http://www.unmillenniumproject.org (April 7, 2009).
[iii]The UN Millennium Project, “The UN Millennium Declaration and the MDGs: What They Are,” http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/goals/index.htm (April 7, 2009).
[iv]The UN Millennium Project, “Goal 6,” http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/ goals/gti.htm#goal6 (April 7, 2009).
[v]Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, The United Nations Millennium Development Goals, “High-level Event,” http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/2008highlevel/ (April 9, 2009).
[vi]Mike Leavitt, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Press Briefing: Pandemic Influenza Plan,” November 2, 2005, http://www.hhs.gov/news/transcripts/ briefing20051102.html (April 9, 2009).
[vii]World Health Organization, “WHO Guidelines for Humanitarian Agencies,” (2006) Background, 2.1, p. 9, http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2006/
WHO_CDS_NTD_DCE_2006.2_eng.pdf (April 9, 2009).
[viii]World Health Organization, “Avian Influenza, Assessing the Pandemic Threat,” January 2005, p. 25. http://www.who.int/csr/disease/influenza/H5N1-9reduit.pdf. (April 7, 2009).
[ix]Victorian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza, (July 2007)12, www.health.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/54503/Victorian_health_management_plan_for_pandemic_influenza.pdf (April 2, 2009).
[x]United States Department of Health and Human Services, “HHS Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan,” http://www.hhs.gov/pandemicflu/implementationplan/intro.htm (April 7, 2009).
[xi]U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Guide for Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources, Sec. 1.3, p. 6, (September 2006) http://www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/pdf/cikrpandemicinfluenzeguide.pdf (April 9, 2009).
[xii]World Health Organization, Operational Procedures for Event Management, 2008, http://www.who.int/csr/HSE_EPR_ARO_2008_1.pdf (April 7, 2009).
[xiii]World Health Organization, International Health Regulations, http://www.who.int/ihr/en/ (April 2, 2009).
[xiv]World Health Organization, International Health Regulations, http://www.who.int/csr/
HSE_EPR_ARO_2008_1.pdf (April 7, 2009).
[xv]World Health Organization, “International Spread of Disease Threatens Public Health Security” (August 23, 2008) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2007/pr44/en/index.html.
[xvi]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “H1N1 (Swine Flu) and You, Novel H1N1Flu,” (May 8, 2009) http://www.cdc.gov/H1N1flu/qa.htm.
[xvii]Emma Hitt, PhD., “WHO Maintains Level 5 Pandemic Level,” Medscape Today, (April 29, 2009) http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/702149 (April 30, 2009).
[xviii]Pan American Health Organization, International Health Regulations (2005) http://new.paho.org/hq/ index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=534&Itemid=259.
[xix]Physicians for Civil Defense, “21st Century Living Terrors,” (November 2002) http://www.physiciansforcivildefense.org/cdp/nov2002.html.
[xx]Tom Mangold, Jeff Goldberg, Plague Wars: A True Story of Biological Warfare (New York: MacMillan, 2000), xi.
[xxii]Mark Wheelis, Lajos Rózsa, Malcolm Dando, Deadly Cultures (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2006), 1.
[xxiii] Ibid., 355.
[xxiv] U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9: Defense of United States Agriculture and Food,” (January 30, 2004) http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/laws/gc_1217449547663.shtm (April 7, 2009).
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