FBI to Stage 'Bio-Terror' Exercise at Wisconsin Campus
July 21, 2014
Karen Herzog / The Journal Sentinel & Jack Jacobson / UW Madison Police Department
The University of Wisconsin-Madison will simulate a terrorist bombing at Camp Randall Stadium early Thursday -- complete with explosive sound effects, billowing smoke and pretend victims -- to test its emergency preparedness plan involving everyone from police and fire squads to hospital emergency departments and the FBI.
UW Puts Worst-case-scenario Planning for Biosafety to the Test
Karen Herzog / The Journal Sentinel
(July 16, 2014) -- The University of Wisconsin-Madison will simulate a terrorist bombing at Camp Randall Stadium early Thursday -- complete with explosive sound effects, billowing smoke and pretend victims -- to test its emergency preparedness plan involving everyone from police and fire squads to hospital emergency departments and the FBI.
Another hard-to-imagine health threat at UW-Madison that wasn't on the general public's radar until recently also has an elaborate preparedness plan: the unlikely event that a potentially deadly virus accidentally escapes or is stolen from a UW research lab.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- considered the gold standard of biosafety -- is under fire for recently revealed safety lapses at a half-dozen federal health agency labs involving deadly anthrax and smallpox, and a dangerous strain of bird flu.
University research labs across the country were caught in the fallout Wednesday after USA Today reported the contents of government reports stamped "restricted" that it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The reports from 2006 revealed weaknesses in 11 of 15 unnamed university labs inspected -- from incomplete inventory records, to issues that could have allowed unapproved individuals to access areas where specimens were stored, to one university having lapses that could allow unapproved individuals to make keys for themselves and others.
UW-Madison has the second largest academic select-agent program in the country behind the University of Texas Medical Branch. Select agents are viruses and other pathogens declared by the federal government to have the potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety.
Government anti-terrorism regulations dictate tight security around any biological agent that poses a potentially severe health threat. UW-Madison's labs are subject to regular and unannounced inspections by the CDC's enforcement division, Rebecca Moritz, research compliance specialist for UW-Madison's biological safety office, said Wednesday.
"When inspectors come in, it's their job to find things that are wrong to make us better," Moritz said. "When we have been inspected, we've been told many of our practices and procedures are best practice."
Moritz will be among more than 100 "victims" participating in Thursday's simulated Boston Marathon-esque terrorist bombing at Camp Randall because participating will benefit her work with biosecurity, she said.
Moritz was part of the planning committee because she works closely on biosecurity issues with the UW-Madison and Madison police departments and the FBI. "This is a good exercise to practice communication," she said.
In the Camp Randall simulation, Moritz will have a life-threatening injury and be admitted to UW Hospital and Clinics.
UW researchers previously simulated an accidental release of a virus in a lab, Moritz said. That scenario involved a researcher coming down with symptoms at home. "We come to their home, cover them in (Personal Protective Equipment) and put a respirator and gloves on them," Moritz said. "We transport them to the hospital and have a specific plan for who calls who."
UW Hospital was involved in that simulation because the pretend victim was transported by the UW biosafety team and placed in one of several isolation rooms in the ambulance bay of the hospital's Emergency Department. "I want to see their procedures from a patient's perspective," Moritz said, explaining why she's a pretend bombing victim.
The whole point of incidence response plans is to think about and drill all possible worst-case scenarios ahead of time, Moritz said. "If something horrible were to happen, we've thought of everything and know exactly what to do."
The worst-case scenario planning happens before research is ever approved by the university's Institutional Biosafety Committee, which reviews research activities involving biologically hazardous materials and/or recombinant DNA molecules/organisms.
High-profile Flu Research
Not everyone on the committee is comfortable with research at UW-Madison's highest profile lab, the $12 million Influenza Research Institute built in a residential neighborhood exclusively for the research of scientist Yoshihiro Kawaoka.
Thomas Jeffries, professor emeritus of bacteriology at UW-Madison, said he believes mutated bird flu viruses should be modified so they cannot replicate outside the lab and the animals directly involved. He also says the Institutional Biosafety Committee has inherent conflicts of interest because it's led by university researchers, not independent experts.
Kawaoka has received international attention for his controversial work to advance the understanding of potentially deadly viruses that circulate in nature and are constantly mutating. Kawaoka says he is seeking to understand how bird flu mutates and becomes more transmissible, what it would take for it to jump from birds as carriers to humans as carriers, and vaccines that could counteract it.
All influenza viruses used in Kawaoka's containment laboratories respond to antivirals such as Tamiflu, Moritz said. The labs are required to test virus strains periodically to ensure they remain sensitive to antivirals, she said.
Researchers who work in the Biosafety Level-3Ag lab wear protective suits with double gloves and air purifying respirators that provide a constant whoosh of clean air.
Before leaving the containment lab, they're required to take five-minute showers with soap and shampoo because the influenza virus dies when exposed to detergent. All liquid from the facility, such as water from showers and sinks, is sterilized before being released to the city's sewerage district.
No one is allowed inside without FBI security clearance, extensive training, elaborate protective clothing and a personal air purifying respirator.
Sarah Van Orman, a physician and executive director of UW-Madison's University Health Services, serves on the university's biosecurity committee.
"The notion that a virus could get out is not a realistic scenario," Van Orman said, explaining that her basis for that is knowledge of the safety and security measures. "It's good to ask these questions," she said. "But I feel confident about what we're doing here."
Operation Wisconsin Dawn
Jack Jacobson / UW Madison Police Department
(July 2, 2014) -- The Emergency Management Unit of the UW-Madison Police Department, along with support from university, city, county, state, and federal agencies will hold a full-scale exercise on Thursday, July 17th.
Some of the participating agencies include the Madison Fire & Police Departments, Dane Country Sheriff Office & Emergency Management, Department of Justice, FBI, US Attorney's Office, UW Hospital, and Meriter Hospital. More than 400 people are expected to participate in this real-life simulation of an emergency at Camp Randall Stadium.
Planning began over a year ago, and it's the first time the University's emergency response capacity will be tested at this level.
There is undoubtedly a changing security environment throughout the United States with images of the Boston Marathon bombing still clear in memory. Universities have a responsibility for the safety of students, staff, and surrounding communities; universities have a responsibility to prepare for a catastrophe.
The Emergency Management Unit takes this responsibility seriously and notes the importance of UW-Madison's commitment and financial support.
"Our philosophy is that emergencies can happen, and our job is to ensure that we can meet those challenges," UWPD Emergency Management Supervisor Bill Curtis said. "Operation Wisconsin Dawn will be the largest and most sophisticated emergency response exercise in the state's history."
What to Expect:
On the July 17th, from 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the 1400 block of Monroe Street (Randall to Regent) will be closed to traffic. The UW Credit Union will also be closed until 3 p.m. -- at that time, it will open only for pedestrian traffic.
At around 7:00 a.m. an explosive sound effect will be heard in Camp Randall Stadium. Emergency vehicles will respond in real-time with lights and sirens – neighbors can expect the lights and sirens to cease by 10 a.m.
Nearby residents should also expect to see smoke, and acting victims with fake blood and injuries. The realistic nature of the exercise is designed to better prepare the University for an actual crisis.
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