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Being Prepared: Modeling the Response to an Anthrax Attack

Glenn F. Webb, PhD
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From Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37240.

Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed.

Requests for Single Reprints: Glenn F. Webb, PhD, Department of Mathematics, Vanderbilt University, 1326 Stevenson Center, Nashville, TN 37240; e-mail, glenn.f.webb@vanderbilt.edu.

Ann Intern Med. 2005;142(8):667-668. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-142-8-200504190-00016
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On 1 February 2005, Connecticut residents heard an emergency alert broadcast, beginning at 2:10 p.m. and ending at 3:10 p.m., that ordered them to evacuate the state. Fortunately, their response was minimal. A state emergency management official had mistakenly entered the wrong computer code into a weekly test of the emergency alert system, and incredulous Connecticut residents had correctly assumed that the broadcast was a false alarm. The incident illustrates several difficulties in preparing for a future catastrophe. Potential catastrophes differ in form, scale, and predictability, and each requires specific consideration of risk and preparation. If we could predict with certainty when and where a particular catastrophic event would occur, we could prepare with total commitment. Alas, to quote the physicist Niels Bohr: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” (1).

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