Internet Key Component in Information System to Combat Bioterrorism
USA Today columnist Kevin Maney today reports on how the Internet could be used as an "early-warning and information system" against bioterrorism. The idea comes from Ron LaPorte, a professor of public health at the University of Pittsburgh, who has been working on ways to use the Internet to "quickly find and stop infectious disease outbreaks." In bioterrorism incidents, the "worst" problem is a lack of information. Thus, LaPorte has developed a model system that can facilitate the "rapid flow" of information between citizens and the medical and public health sectors. LaPorte based his response model on the civil defense system used during the Cold War. Under that system, neighborhood "captains" would keep citizens informed, and residents would alert captains to any "sign of a problem." In turn, captains would then notify authorities and receive instructions. Those neighborhoods can be "real or virtual," such as a chatroom group, LaPorte said. In an online system, Internet users could act as "sensors" and pass information to a leader, who would then feed the information into the system. This information would be available "instantly" to authorities, who could "ta[p]" experts around the country to help. The system would also work "in reverse" -- officials could disseminate "real-time" information and instructions to captains. Such a "bioterror civil defense system" would cost little because the Internet already exits, USA Today reports. Also, the Internet was designed to be "hardy" in war time and has millions of users, who are already accustomed to functioning in an online community. LaPorte said, "People don't like terrorism. This would give people a way to feel they were doing something about it." LaPorte presented his idea at a Sept. 5 bioterrorism conference and was contacted by the intelligence community, which plans to present the system to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge (Maney, USA Today, 10/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.