Sandia simulator tests Calif. bioterror readiness

With a simulator developed by an Energy Department laboratory, county, state and federal officials in California recently conducted a six-hour anthrax attack drill.

Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif., hosted the mock bioterrorism session at the lab's Visualization Design Center. Alameda County, Calif., public health and safety officials used Sandia's decision-analysis simulation tool.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction-Decision Analysis Center tool helps emergency leaders spot clues and see the results of their collective decisions during a mock crisis, said Howard Hirano, a manager in Sandia's Advanced Technology Department.

WMD-DAC [GCN, Nov. 4, 2002, Page 32] used Census 2000 data for the San Francisco metropolitan area to simulate a realistic initial population of varying age and gender.

When soliciting advice during the simulation's development, Sandia officials spoke to public health officials in Alameda County, who wanted to use the simulation to assess their own bioterrorism plan, Hirano said.

It was a cold and cloudy day

The scenario postulated that weapons-grade anthrax had been released at a marina near Berkeley, Calif., in cold and cloudy weather, causing a spike in the number of respiratory illnesses reported to area hospitals.

During the drill, participants had to make decisions about 35 confirmed and 613 suspected cases of anthrax. The 24 participants, representing the FBI, California Department of Health Services, Alameda County Office of Emergency Services and other health organizations, drafted mock
e-mail messages and press releases.

Sandia is upgrading the decision-analysis tool with an interface to the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center at neighboring Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Hirano said. The center models airborne releases of hazardous materials and provides emergency-response data about direction and dispersal of atmospheric plumes.

Although the drill focused on Alameda County, where Sandia and Livermore are located, the tool incorporates data for all nine counties in the San Francisco Bay area.

'We think there will be a benefit to working with other counties, but we're not funded to do that,' Hirano said.

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