Despite the horrendous scale of the Deep Water Horizon oil disaster, America is indeed fortunate to have Admiral Thad Allen at the helm as the National Incident Commander. His decades of service in the U.S Coast Guard provide him the technical knowledge and leadership skills to manage the “unity of effort” required to coordinate this complex operation that includes federal, state and local government assets plus private-sector and NGO efforts. Additionally, his demeanor and communication skills make him an outstanding spokesperson for the national response. I trust what he says.
One advantage in this response scenario is that we, unfortunately, have a lot of experience with oil spills—never on this scale, but national plans and organizational structures have been developed, tested, and improved for decades. Such is not the case for a response to bioterrorism.
Today there are more than two-dozen Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed individuals with some responsibilities for biodefense, but not one has it for a full-time job, and no one is in charge. Who would be in charge of coordinating a response to an act of bioterrorism, using a contagious pathogen, that was detected in multiple states, counties, and cities?
We would most certainly need someone with Thad Allen’s character, expertise, and leadership and management skills, but that alone would not be enough if the proper organizational structure was not available. As General Eisenhower said, “The right organization will not guarantee success, but the wrong organization will guarantee failure.”
For response to an act of bioterrorism, is America organized for failure?