Friday, February 12, 2010

Israeli Biological Warfare Drill Draws International Crowd

Israeli Biological Warfare Drill Draws International Crowd
Written by Arieh O’Sullivan
Published Thursday, February 11, 2010
Link to original article source

At first people will be feeling sick with a high fever, itchiness, perhaps a rash and back aches. Then the blisters will appear. If it’s small pox, it’s highly contagious and death is quite certain.

If bio-terrorists or enemy states were to introduce small pox today it could mushroom into a catastrophic calamity for any nation.

At Tel Hashomer hospital just outside Tel Aviv, hundreds of “patients” began flooding the emergency ward during a recent exercise. They were met by medical personnel – decked out in impermeable white plastic suits, gloves and head coverings which left no part of the body exposed to germs to prevent the spread of a biological epidemic.

“The purpose of the drill is to see if we are able to detect what is the source of the disease at the right time the right place and the right bacterial virus and to give the right response,” said Col. Dr. Ariel Bar, Surgeon General of the Home Front Command.

Over 1,000 volunteers were recruited and trained to behave as though they had been exposed to biological agents. The drill, code named Orange Flame, was the largest of its kind in Israel’s history and was aimed at evaluating the ability of the Home Front Command, medical services, rescue teams and municipal authorities to respond to a biological catastrophe.

The major challenge was to contain the damage as much as possible. As the patients were wheeled into quarantined rooms, doctors and nurses began to ascertain their symptoms. This information was rushed to a command center where computers began to analyze which disease it could be.

Israelis are arguably the most protected civilian population on earth. Each home is required to have a bomb shelter or security room that can be sealed off from a chemical or biological attack as well as conventional strikes.

Furthermore, this spring, the Home Front command will be distributing newly upgraded gas masks to its citizens, and the medical services and hospitals are constantly drilling for major catastrophes. It’s not just paranoia. It’s a well-oiled system and it has to be.

Millions of Israelis have been under missile attacks from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in recent years. During the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein pounded the Tel Aviv area with 39 Scud missiles which were feared to have chemical warheads. Israeli military intelligence warns that the country faces growing biological, chemical and nuclear threats.

“We are relatively more protected than most nations in the world,” said Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Ze’ev Livne, a former head of the Home Front Command. “It is not paranoid, but it comes out of the threats that we have faced until now and we look into the future and it is not going to be reduced.”

The Israelis have become such experts that their skills are in demand all over the world. This drill was part of a major conference called International Preparedness and Response to Emergencies and Disasters. It drew some 200 foreign nationals from 30 countries including, India, Turkey, Europe and North America, African nations and former Soviet states.

There were no representatives from either Egypt or the Palestinian Authority, but one keynote participant was Mohammed al-Hadid, the head of the Jordanian Red Crescent and the immediate past-chairman of the standing commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the highest body in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

“If any type of weapon of mass destruction is used in the region it is not going to only affect Israel,” al-Hadid said. “It is going to affect many, many Palestinians and even some Jordanians. The distance is very close and spread of these weapons of mass destruction would be horrific.”

The foreign doctors and medical personnel witnessed first hand Israeli strategies to deal with a sudden influx of people injured in a mass-casualty disaster. They were shown how Israeli hospitals operated in teams together with first responders as they engaged in triage to weed out the serious cases.

Dr. Michele Alzetta is the chief of emergency at the Venice Hospital, Italy. He said the Israeli training was exposing him to techniques he wanted to take back with him to Italy.

“I came here specifically because I wanted to understand how such sort of drills could be applied and implemented in our reality,” Alzetta said. “We do something like this for mass casualties. We’ve never done anything specifically on biological warfare, but of course it is everyone’s duty to be prepared nowadays for anything.”

For the Israelis, the conference was not solely a one-way learning affair. Col. Bar said that Israel had proven experience in dealing with man-made disasters like missile attacks, but little involving natural disasters.

“We are good in some aspects, but there are some things that we lack and we are not good enough and we want to be better prepared,” Bar said. “So we are interested in learning more about hospital evacuation and biological attacks which, for example, the United States experience and we don’t.”

Prof. Kristi Koenig, an internationally recognized expert in the fields of homeland security, emergency management and emergency medical support, agreed.

“I think Israelis are very much protected but we all need to learn from each other because these issues are global issues,” she said. “Disasters cross boundaries, cross cultures and we always have more to learn.”

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