In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and anthrax scares, Cornell authorities have mobilized the University to prepare against the threat of biological terrorism.
The administration has been responding both to fears expressed by concerned parents and members of the community.
“We have been vigilant on all issues related to safety on campus,” said Kent Hubbell ’69, dean of students. “Concerned parents have called about anthrax, and we try to respond constructively [to alleviate their fears].”
In fact, any type of biological attack is highly unlikely, though the risk is always present.
“Could we see a small-scale attack? Yes. Should we be worried about that?
“No. Even if [an anthrax attack] does occur, it’s easily treated by antibiotics,” said Kathleen Vogel, peace studies, who has recently given a lecture on the subject.
A large scale attack on hundreds or thousands of people is even less likely due to the high level of technical expertise required to produce effective biological agents.
In the event that a large-scale release does occur, exposure alone will not necessarily result in infection, Vogel said.
“Even when you have the materials [for a small- or large-scale attack], there are many things you have to do to it to make it a weapon,” she added.
Nevertheless, Cornell has labored to prepare itself for any worst-case scenarios. “There has been a lot of preparation and coordination going on here at Cornell in the last couple of months,” said Sharon Dittman, associate director of Gannet Health Services.
Information seminars, jointly organized by the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) department, Gannett: University Health Services, Cornell Police, Transportation and Mail Services and Employee Assistance Program, have educated people on issues related to safety and security.
“We’ve let the entire Cornell community know how to handle suspect packages, what they look like and what procedures to follow,” said Andy Garcia-Rivera, director of EHS.
Environmental Health and Safety
Though Cornell has implemented increased security measured throughout campus, Garcia-Rivera noted that EHS has been taking steps to minimize risks for several years.
“Since 1999 [when there was a national conference on biological terrorism], we’ve already done internal training, we have been aware of biological terrorism, and we have had active health and safety programs,” Garcia-Rivera said. “Now we do additional assessments to maximize security and minimize, where possible, the risks from terrorists.”
In fact, dealing with biological or chemical accidents is nothing new to EHS.
“EHS regularly responds to chemical spills in the lab environment, but EHS has modified its response procedure to accommodate the new need created by potential suspect mail that may contain anthrax,” Garcia-Rivera said, noting that the new procedures are adapted to a non-laboratory setting.
At Gannett, the staff has received extensive training in the recognition and treatment of victims of a biological attack.
“We are prepared to treat students or community members who might become infected [as the result of a biological attack]. Our health providers are confident they can recognize the symptoms of anthrax or any other known bioweapon,” Dittman said.
Much of the staff’s training came from government agencies, including the New York State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The learning curve [and dissemination of knowledge] from the CDC was tremendous in the first few weeks [after the anthrax attacks],” Dittman said, adding that these two government agencies would rapidly provide assistance in the event of an attack.
“It’s comforting to know we wouldn’t be alone,” she said.
Archived article by Jennifer Frazer