Oklahoma and the US failed a bioterrorism drill over the summer

Wednesday, October 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

"Dark Winter" is the name of a high-level war game exploring just how ready we are for a biological attack. Key national leaders, including Governor Frank Keating, conducted the exercise before the terrorist assault on New York and Washington DC. But that just makes the results all the more shocking.

News on Six reporter Paul Serrell says the results of "Dark Winter" were discussed in a recent Time Magazine article and Governor Frank Keating was on CNN Tuesday, trying to explain how Oklahoma and the nation failed the terror test.

Emergency workers prepare constantly for disaster. But what if terrorists caused a smallpox outbreak inside the US. That's the "Dark Winter" scenario government leaders played out in a simulated war game over the summer. In the game, terrorists deliberately infect Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Georgia with the smallpox virus. Game participants including Governor Frank Keating quickly try to respond, but fail, leaving within two weeks, and remember it's only a game, 16,000 Americans infected, with 6,000 dead or dying.

Frank Keating: "Dark Winter really suggested to us that if smallpox is a potential attack source, most doctors, most nurses, certainly those trained in the last 25 years don't recognize it, wouldn't know what was." But hopefully now they will, because this is what smallpox can do to the body. The horrible rash and the fever that comes with it historically kill one out of every three people who get the disease.

Keating says don't panic, but be aware. "Our big need is not to exaggerate, or our big challenge is not to exaggerate the potential of smallpox, but to have the intelligence tell us what is realistic. Is it an airplane in a building, is it smallpox?" Unfortunately, the answer to that first question is yes. So officials feel they have no choice, but to prepare for a smallpox threat, just in case.

Just so you understand about smallpox, it was pretty much stamped out by 1980 and US experts say vaccination for it was stopped everywhere in the world. But a few governments still have access to the smallpox virus. So US leaders are trying to figure out the best way to protect us.

If you'd like more information on "Dark Winter" and smallpox, here's a website operated in conjunction with John Hopkins Hospital. It's www.hopkins-biodefense.org