Delving Deeper: Everything You Want to Know about PHSBPRA (Part One!)

By GMU PhD Student, Yong-Bee Lim

“Bioterrorism is a real threat to our country. It’s a threat to very nation that loves freedom. Terrorist groups seek biological weapons; we know some rogue states already have them…It’s important that we confront these real threats to our country and prepare for future emergencies.” – George W. Bush, 06/12/2002

I.  Introduction: Biosecurity or Bio-insecurity

Following the back-to-back tragedies of 9/11 and the Amerithrax Letter attacks, the United States (U.S) government realized how ill-prepared it was to handle the challenges associated with preparing for, and responding to, acts of terrorism. The Amerithrax Letter attacks, which successfully managed to infiltrate targeted congressional buildings, highlighted the inadequacies of security, preparedness, and response policies relating to bioterrorism events.[1] Thus, introduced in the immediate wake of the attacks and signed into law six short months later, the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (PHSBPRA) promised to be a major tool in the federal government’s fight against bioterrorism.

However, like many bills proposed and ratified in the wake of 9/11, unintended consequences arose from the PHSBPRA that have ultimately undermined U.S. national security against bioterrorism. In conjunction with the Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act), the PHSBPRA has not only undermined domestic national security, but has also contributed to the tarnishing of U.S. prestige in the international arena. Domestically, a combination of increased funding for biodefense research on select agents and insufficient measures in certain security areas have compromised laboratory security by increasing risks for laboratory incidents and insider threats;[2] however, other security areas were overly regulated, which prompted the loss of foreign technical workers as well as creating great impediments in the free dissemination of scientific information.[3] These hurdles continue to impede basic scientific research, which ultimately inhibit the creation of new therapeutics and medical countermeasures (MCMs) to deal with pathogens in the event of a bioterrorist attack.[4]

Internationally, the U.S. had already faced great criticism for rejecting the ratification of generous redrafting of the Biological Weapons Convention. This redraft, commonly referred to as “The Chairman’s Text” sought to accommodate the U.S.’s concerns in regards to verification protocols within the BWC. The international perception following this rejection was that the “U.S. is…taking a position that can only be read as an insistence that other nations should lay themselves open to intrusive inspection, which the U.S. accepts no obligations.”[5] This post seeks to highlight relevant details in the events leading up to 9/11 and Amerithrax, provide an overview of the PHSBPRA, and highlight the consequences following its enactment.

II.  Historical Climate: How Bioterrorism and Bio-preparedness were Perceived Before 9/11 and Amerithrax

While Amerithrax was the major bioterrorism event that launched biodefense considerations to the forefront of American consciousness, bioterrorism attempts and acts have been implemented at various points throughout history and all over the globe. Internationally, both World Wars ultimately contributed to the use of unconventional weapons, which are commonly referred to as “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs) in the modern day.[6] In regards to biological weapons, glanders was used by German undercover agents to infect the livestock of Allied countries with the highly contagious Burkholderia mallei during World War I.[7] During World War II, the infamous Japanese Unit 731 investigated biological weapons in occupied Manchuria; these investigations included the use of plague and other biological agents on prisoners and Chinese nationals.[8]

In an age of asymmetric warfare, focus of potential biological weapons production and use has shifted from nation-states to violent non-state actors (VNSAs).[9] In the modern day, a Japanese terrorist cult, called Aum Shinrikyo, attempted to manufacture and disseminate biological weapons (including aerosolized anthrax) to bring about an apocalypse.[10] Other groups labeled as terrorist organizations, such as Al-Qaeda, have expressed considerable interest in obtaining biological weapons.[11]

Despite the case studies mentioned previously, the realm of bioterrorism and offensive bioweapon attacks is filled with far more failures than successes. The only successful modern-day bioterrorism attack that tends to be unchallenged was the act of a cult which used Salmonella typhimurium at a salad bar in Oregon to get over 700 individuals sick with severe food poisoning.[12] The cult’s motivation for this attack was to try to get enough individuals sick to take over the local county government.

The paucity of successes in the use of biological weapons was reflected in the paucity of biopreparedness actions and policies in the U.S. pre-9/11. Two biodefense policies followed, but did not result from, the cult’s attack. In 1989, the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act was passed to pave the way for the implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in the United States.[13] This act sought to implement the BWC by imposing criminal penalties for violating the articles of the Convention, defining biowarfare terms, and limited possession of biological agents.[14] In 1996, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 was created and passed to curb domestic actions of terrorism, as well as limiting the access to materials with WMD implications.[15],[16]

Following the Amerithrax Letter Attacks, the USA Patriot Act of 2001 went further in biodefense policy by both establishing certain controls over select agents to ensure that no “restricted person” transports, ships, or possess select agents, as well as imposing strict criminal penalties for the possession of certain biological agents or toxins; the only way to avoid criminal penalties is if the reason for the possession of the agent or toxin was for justified prophylactic, protective, bona fide research, or other peaceful purposes.[17]

Pt. 2 Next Week: Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Response Act of 2002: Purpose and Implementation

Yong-Bee Lim is a PhD student in Biodefense at George Mason University. He holds a B.S. in Psychology and an M.S. in Biodefense from George Mason University as well. Contact him at or on Twitter @yblim3.

[1] “Biodefense for the 21st Century,” The White House: Office of the Press Secretary, accessed on 02/01/2013,

[2] Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, “History of US Biodefense Strategy and Policy” (lecture, Biodefense 609 at GMU, Fairfax, VA, September 5, 2012)

[3] GJ Knezo, “Possible Impacts of Major Counter-Terrorism Security Actions on Research, Development, and Higher Education,” Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service Report to Congress, Library of Congress; 2002

[4] Kendall Hoyt, Long Shot: Vaccines for National Defense (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), Loc 118

[5] “US Policy and the BWC Protocol,” The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists: FAS Public Interest Report, accessed on 01/15/2014,

[6] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats (Washington, DC: The Brooking Institution Press, 2005): Loc 228

[7] Robert J. Hawley and Edward M. Eitzen, Jr. “Biological Weapons – A Primer for Microbiologists,” Annual Review of Microbiology, Vol. 55 (2001): pp. 235 – 253

[8] Ibid.

[9] Cirincione et al., Deadly Arsenals: Loc 268

[10] Richard Danzig, Marc Sageman, Terrance Leighton, Lloyd Hough, Hidemi Yuki, Rui Kotani, & Zachary M. Hosford. Aum Shinrikyo: Insights Into how Terrorists Develop Biological and Chemical Weapons, (Washington DC: Center for a New American Security, 2011): p. 8

[11] Milton Leitenberg, Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. army War College, 2005): p. 26

[12] Jonathan B. Tucker, ed., Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000): pp. 115 – 138

[13] “Bill Text: 101st Congress (1989 – 1990): S 993.ENR,” The Library of Congress (Thomas), accessed 01/16/2014,

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Bill Text: 104th Congress (1995 – 1996): S 735.ENR,” The Library of Congress (Thomas), accessed 01/16/2014,

[16] Ibid.

[17] “Bill Summary and Status: 107th Congress (2001 – 2001), H R.3162, CRS Summary,” The Library of Congress (Thomas), accessed 03/16/2013,

Delving Deeper: Emergency Preparedness

By Yong-Bee Lim

As the past two years of disaster events have displayed, it is more important than ever for individuals, families, and organizations to prepare for self-sufficiency for extended periods of time.[1] However, there is a universal human tendency to avoid thinking about negative events such as possible emergencies.[2] This deliberate lack of attention to local emergency plans and personal emergency preparedness can be vividly seen in a 2006 study by “The Council for Excellence Government Report”. This report, composed post-Katrina, displayed that only a 1/3 of the population lacked knowledge of local government plans, roughly half did not have an alert emergency situation in their community, and only 8% of the public has done everything required to fully prepare supplies and plans for an emergency incident.[3]

This lack of preparedness in the U.S. population is a large problem for a number of reasons. In emergency situations, a majority (52%) of Americans have reported the loss of electricity for 3 or more days. This, among other issues, creates a number of negative implications, which include:

1)       Potential lack of potable water[4] and other nutritional media (breast milk)[5]

2)       Lack of food, whether in the household or the local grocery store[6]

3)       Diminished visual, security, and communication capability[7]

These types of disruptions are likely to negatively impact populations as natural routines are disrupted. Furthermore, different types of disasters will occur in different areas of the United States; while earthquakes may occur more often in California, tornadoes may more likely affect the Midwestern regions. While parents are likely to be negatively affected by the effects of disaster incidents, children are likely to be affected more severely; due to their psychological, social and physical development differences, children are particularly vulnerable to feelings of powerlessness[8]. The fact that children are exponentially impacted represents a problem as children comprise 25% of the U.S. population.[9]

Emergency Preparedness: Child “Ambassadors”

While events such as natural and man-made disasters cannot be completely eliminated, there are ways to bolster emergency preparedness awareness and implementation. Furthermore, there are not only means to not only empower children by including them in the emergency planning and preparedness process, but means to actively engage children in the emergency planning and preparedness process. This not only provides children with the confidence to deal with unexpected situations, but also helps in mitigating feelings of anxiety and powerlessness in an actual emergency.

To this end, several interactive resources have been made available (both online and in educational settings) to impress, educate, and promote the importance of emergency preparedness in the youth population. Furthermore, as youth “ambassadors” of emergency preparedness, these youths can spark discussions, spur action, and educate their parents and communities about the importance and need to address all aspects of emergency planning and preparedness.

Government Resources

FEMA: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a number of sources to educate children in the importance and practices of emergency preparedness. Some of these include:

  1. Flat Stanley and Flat Stella: These two characters, crafted as ambassadors for children to teach emergency preparedness, promote students to be child ambassadors by provide information such as the necessary facts, plans, and instructions to build a kit for emergency purposes:
  2. Teen CERT: The Teen Community Response Team is a 20-hour program that provides teenagers with both tacit and experiential learning in regards to readiness and response skills; beyond just relaying the information of their learning to others, these students gain techniques in controlling a variety of emergency-related situations:

Private Resources

1)       Sesame Street [Let’s Get Together!]: This series of videos, documents and worksheets, all of which includes fun visuals and Sesame Street character cameos, engages both parents and children in the purpose of, efficacy, creation, and basic planning for emergencies:

2)       American Red Cross’ [Master of Disaster]: This series of programs (numbering over 200), which are specifically tailored to lower elementary (K – 2), middle elementary (3 – 5), and middle school (6 – 8) are meant to educate children through a series of ready-to-go lesson plans that help students not only prepare for emergency events, but to also be able to adapt in the fact of unexpected events:

Regional Sources

1)       Virginia’s Emergency Preparedness: This document provides a step-by-step process for children and families to go through the emergency preparedness process, as well as offer resources in the State of Virginia for emergency issues:

2)       Texas’ Project SECURE Gulf Coast [through CIDRAP]: This project developed a disaster curriculum for Houston schools intended to promote preparedness education for children, and between children and families. An ambassador (known as the Disaster Ambassador Preparedness Program [DAPP]) was created to educate schoolchildren who, in turn, educated their parents. Learned skilled included how to make a family emergency plan, items to store in a family emergency supply kit, ways to receive up-to-date information during a disaster, and how to sign up for transportation assistance:


While these programs have yet to display true efficacy data (through the use of a longitudinal study), the results of projects (like Project SECURE) appear to display significant improvements in both emergency planning and preparedness. Following the 2-year Project SECURE program, many families have followed recommended guidelines for emergency planning and preparedness for hurricanes, and the program is to be continued at the schools it was implemented at.

While man-made and natural disaster incidents are difficult to speak of due to a number of emotional and ethical reasons, it is clear that properly advanced preparation and planning is the key to mitigating the harm that might arise from any form of incident. It is, therefore, important to instill the concepts of emergency planning and preparedness early in our nations’ youth.  These youth, who will end up being our future, will also be empowered to aid their families and communities with the knowledge they have been given.

(image: Kakela/Flickr)

[1] FEMA, Ready.Gov Online. Accessed 12/13/12.

[3] The Council for Excellence in Government Online. Accessed 12/12/12.

[6] Columbus Community Hospital Online. Accessed 12/19/12.

[7] Pacific Disaster Center Online. Accessed 12/18/12.

[9] ChildStats Online. Accessed 12/20/12.