US Prepares 'For Mass Casualties'
By Dave Eberhart

In his traveling slide show, Dr. Cham Dallas lectures about potential nuclear, chemical and biological attacks and how the government is preparing for mass casualties.
We,ve been preparing for this for a number of years now, Dallas recites calmly.
We,ve been preparing our police and fire departments, and our medical people. The preparation is for mass casualties, says the doctor, national civilian consultant to the surgeon general for weapons of mass destruction.
Long before Sept. 11, Dallas, associate professor of pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences and director of the Interdisciplinary Toxicology Program at the University of Georgia, was using a hypothetical attack on the World Trade Center as a model to prepare health professionals to cope with casualties from a terror event.
In 1999 Dallas helped initiate a campus group called the Bio/Chemical Task Force,,, which went on to develop plans for a local center to train medical professionals to deal with mass-casualties either from a natural disaster or terrorists attacks. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., spoke to the Senate in support of the Dallas proposal as a model for a larger national effort.
"I,ve been very surprised at the lack of follow-ups. They,ve lost the element of surprise to a certain extent, and I,m surprised at how much time they,re giving us to gear up, Dallas told the Augusta Chronicle last week.
"A nuclear incident will be very hard to respond to effectively because of the numbers of casualties, which could easily top a million, he said. An exploded nuclear device could fill every burn bed in the United States, he added.
But Dallas sees accelerated biological and possibly chemical attacks as more likely than any nuclear scenario. "A biological weapon is the cheapest and most readily available to groups such as the one coming against us now, he said.
In his presentations, Dallas typically sooths the natural paranoia generated by recent events by declaring that the country is now better prepared to handle the next attacks. He attributes this preparedness to the public,s sense of belonging to a larger community. "It is an excellent response when you look at it from an organizational anti-terrorism point of view.
Potassium Iodide No Silver Bullet for Nuke Attack
In a joint study with counterparts in the former Soviet Union, Dallas noted that beginning about four years after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, there was a steady increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer observed in children and adolescents. Most of the thyroid cancer cases were diagnosed in settlements situated on major railways and roads.
Radioactive iodine (radioiodine) is a major radioisotope constituent of nuclear power plant accidents and nuclear bomb explosions and can travel hundreds of miles on the winds.
After the U.S. nuclear spill at Three Mile Island and the Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union, available stocks of potassium iodide disappeared for months. Taken before or within four hours of exposure, potassium iodide will fill a person,s thyroid gland with safe stable iodine to where there is no room for later uptake of radioactive iodine.
However, as Dallas and other scientists have pointed out, potassium iodide protects only against radioactive iodine, just one of hundreds of poisonous "radionuclides that people might be exposed to in a nuclear event.
This rational consideration did not stop the latest public run on sodium iodide that occurred Oct. 17 when officials closed two Harrisburg, Pa., airports and launched jets in response to a terrorist threat against Three Mile Island.
The threat alone (later judged to be not credible) drove flocks of locals to seek out potassium iodide tablets. Lancaster County,s Emergency Management Agency had stored enough tablets for emergency crews, but had to refer the concerned citizens to private labs.
Reversing an old policy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission set aside $400,000 in fiscal year 2001 for potassium iodide stocks and requested more funding in fiscal year 2002.
Some experts have suggested that several million dollars of the $40 billion Congress tagged to defend against terrorism be used to stockpile potassium iodide pills at schools and town halls across the country.
Other countries have a long history of stockpiling the pills. As Dallas and other students of the world,s worst nuclear disaster noted, after the Chernobyl accident nearby Poland distributed 10 million doses of the medication. Subsequently, there was no upswing in the incidence of thyroid cancer there despite encroaching radiation.
We have been saying that we are living in November 1941,,, said Dallas. There was this expectation of a mass-destruction event, probably with conventional weapons. Now that the line has been crossed, the kinds of people who think this way are now inspired to go forward.,,
Dallas said that thousands of lives may depend on the country,s ability to respond quickly and well to a small nuclear explosion, a more deadly anthrax attack or a smallpox outbreak.
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