On Wednesday, October 15, President Obama “ordered the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a ‘SWAT team’ to be ready to deploy anywhere in the country to help local healthcare systems respond to any Ebola cases.” This according to the Los Angeles Times article headlined Obama tells CDC he wants Ebola “SWAT team” ready to go anywhere.
Then on Sunday, October 19, the Defense Department announced it “…will create a 30-person team of medical experts that could quickly leap into a region if new Ebola cases emerge in the United States, providing support for civilian doctors who lack proficiency in fighting the deadly virus.” This was reported in the Washington Post article headlined Pentagon plans Ebola domestic response team of medical experts to aid doctors.
Why does President Obama think it is necessary to reinvent the concept of a tactical response team? If he had competent cabinet members, he would know that it was done long ago in response to both nuclear and biological emergencies. He already has all the tools and teams he needs.
Such an emergency tactical response team concept to respond to potentially catastrophic nuclear emergencies was formed in the early 1970’s. It was then called the Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST), however its name is now the Nuclear Emergency Support Team. The NEST teams were experts from the various disciplines relavant to detecting and responding to nuclear emergencies of any cause or origin. Their equipment was already assembled in aircraft cargo containers that could be loaded on various commercial and military aircraft for short-notice deployment.
It’s not as if the US government is only now becoming aware of the dangers of biological agents. Since 1969 the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) has been the designated Department of Defense component to deal with them. It is at Ft. Detrick, MD, and is also home to the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and the National Cancer Institute.
If USAMRIID is called to assist with a disease outbreak investigation or a threat to public health, our Diagnostic Systems Division and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will surge to meet the demand. As part of the nation’s Laboratory Response Network, USAMRIID would collaborate with CDC to rapidly characterize suspected pathogens. Our EOC can consult the right subject matter experts for the most challenging cases. Whether the request comes from a Combatant Command or another Federal agency, USAMRIID stands ready to assist in any biological contingency.
So why, we wonder, is President Obama only now supposedly forming a tactical response team to deal with future incidents of Ebola in the US? It’s not as if he needed to reinvent the concept.