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Atlantic Storm

Daniel S. Hamilton, Bradley T. Smith
Date posted:
January 15, 2006
Publication type:

EMBO Rep 2006;7(1):4-9

Wiley Blackwell
Available on publisher's website

On 14 January 2005, ten heads of government from Europe and North America and the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO; Geneva, Switzerland) were scheduled to meet for a 'Transatlantic Security Summit' in Washington, DC, USA, to discuss the threat of international terrorism. On the eve of the meeting, news broke that citizens from several European countries appeared to have become ill with smallpox; shortly thereafter suspected smallpox cases appeared in the USA. Although the assembled leaders did not know it at the time, a radical terrorist group had obtained seed strains of Variola major—the virus causing smallpox—and deliberately released the virus in a number of main transport hubs and sites of commerce throughout Europe and North America. On 14 January, the heads of states who gathered in Washington were confronted with one of the worst nightmares imaginable: the use of contagious and deadly disease as a weapon.

Luckily, the real world has been spared such an attack—this scenario was a simulated exercise with the aim of assessing how the international community would react to such a rapidly evolving public health emergency. The Atlantic Storm exercise was designed to provoke imagination and to prompt action by making the reality of a deliberately caused epidemic more vivid (Smith et al, 2005). The exercise underscores our shared responsibility to prevent, prepare for and respond to such a threat at an international level, as the lessons learned from it are relevant to all large-scale, destabilizing epidemics of infectious disease—be they natural or intentional. Atlantic Storm vividly illustrates that preparedness matters: heads of state cannot be expected to create the necessary emergency response systems in the midst of an international health and security crisis.

Full article as PDF • Atlantic Storm website



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