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Homeland Security

Scenario 13: Biological Attack - Food Contamination

Executive Summary

Casualties 300 fatalities; 400 hospitalizations
Infrastructure Damage None
Evacuations/Displaced Persons None
Contamination Sites where contamination was dispersed
Economic Impact Millions of dollars
Potential for Multiple Events Yes
Recovery Timeline Weeks

Scenario Overview:

General Description -

The U.S. food industry has significantly increased its physical and personnel security since 2001. A successful attack could only occur following the illegal acquisition of sensitive information revealing detailed vulnerabilities of a specific production site. However, in this scenario the Universal Adversary (UA) is able to acquire these restricted documents due to a security lapse. The UA uses these sensitive documents and a high degree of careful planning to avoid apprehension and conduct a serious attack.

The UA delivers liquid anthrax bacteria to pre-selected plant workers. At a beef plant in a west coast state, two batches of ground beef are contaminated with anthrax, with distribution to a city on the west coast, a southwest state, and a state in the northwest. At an orange juice plant in a southwestern state, three batches of orange juice are contaminated with anthrax, with distribution to a west coast city, a southwest city, and a northwest city.

Timeline/Event Dynamics -

  • November: The biological agent is delivered to terrorists (plant workers).
  • December 3: The biological agent is inserted into ground beef and orange juice at production facilities, and the packages are shipped to affected cities.
  • December 5: The first signs of patients with unknown illness appear.
  • December 5-15: There is a significant influx of affected individuals into hospitals with 1,200 sick, 300 dead, and 400 hospitalized in ICU.
  • December 8: Health departments, the CDC, the FDA, and the USDA begin pursuing epidemiological investigations.
  • December 30: A contaminated product trace is made to ground beef and orange juice production plants. Decontamination of plants commences.
  • January 5: No new cases of illness are reported.

Secondary Hazards/Events -

As a result of news of the contaminated food products, there is general public concern regarding food safety, and the "worried well" are taxing medical and laboratory facilities. The public floods into medical facilities seeking prescription drugs to prevent or recover from sickness. In addition, ground beef and orange juice sales plummet, and unemployment in these two industries rises dramatically.

Key Implications:

The attack results in 300 fatalities, 400 hospitalizations, and 1,200 illnesses. Overall property damage is moderate, and due only to decontamination of affected facilities. However, property and facility disruption (downtime) are significant due to decontamination of affected facilities.

Service disruption is significant in ground beef and orange juice industries, and some moderate disruption occurs in other food industries due to the public's concern about food safety in general.

Although direct financial impact is significant, initial economic impact on the general economy is relatively low. However, the long-term financial impact on the beef and orange juice marketplace and associated businesses could be significant, and other food industries' income is likely to be negatively affected by the public's overall perception of unsafe food. The societal impact of attacks on the food supply generates demands for increased, costly, federally directed food security programs and other measures to reduce the possibility of future attacks.

Anthrax may result in fatality and serious long-term illness.

Mission Areas Activated:


Prevention/Deterrence/Protection - Avoiding the attack is contingent on the prevention of infiltration of two different food production systems. Deterrence and protection require rapid disease diagnosis, and protective measures to assure food safety.

Emergency Assessment/Diagnosis - Determining cause of illness and tracking the contaminated source is critical.

Emergency Management/Response - Disease outbreaks in three cities spread throughout the country, which tests coordination of resources.

Incident/Hazard Mitigation - Once disease outbreak occurs, decisions must be made regarding meat and juice supplies and production.

Public Protection - Public protection will require testing alert and warning mechanisms, providing public information and education, and coordinating human and veterinary services.

Victim Care - Victim care will require diagnosis and treatment of affected population and distribution of prophylaxis for potentially exposed populations.

Investigation/Apprehension - Epidemiology will be critical to trace the source of contamination. Investigation of crime and apprehension of suspects will be needed.

Recovery/Remediation - Contaminated foodstuffs require disposal. Plants and sites where anthrax was dispersed may need to be decontaminated.




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