Heard of Operation Dark Winter?

In June 2001, a bio-terrorist attack simulation tried to evaluate the effectiveness of the nation’s response to a worst case scenario – smallpox attack.  The findings weren’t good!

The simulation was “created and run by Tara O’Toole and Thomas Inglesby of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies (CCBS) / Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Randy Larsen and Mark DeMier of Analytic Services.” (1)

The first such exercise of its kind, Dark Winter was undertaken to examine the challenges that senior-level policy makers would face if confronted with a bioterrorist attack that initiated outbreaks of highly contagious disease. The exercise was intended to increase awareness of the scope and character of the threat posed by biological weapons among senior national security experts and to catalyze actions that would improve prevention and response strategies.  Shining Light on “Dark Winter”

Critics of the simulation point to the fact that the “players” continually asked for worst case scenario.  I say, what is the problem with that?  You can’t tell a virus to take it easy on you!  The lessons learned from the simulation include:

  • Leaders are unfamiliar with the character of bioterrorist attacks, available policy options, and their consequences.
  • After a bioterrorist attack, leaders’ decisions would depend on data and expertise from the medical and public health sectors.
  • The lack of sufficient vaccine or drugs to prevent the spread of disease severely limited management options.
  • The US health care system lacks the surge capacity to deal with mass casualties.
  • To end a disease outbreak after a bioterrorist attack, decision makers will require ongoing expert advice from senior public health and medical leaders.
  • Federal and state priorities may be unclear, differ, or conflict; authorities may be uncertain; and constitutional issues may arise.
  • The individual actions of US citizens will be critical to ending the spread of contagious disease; leaders must gain the trust and sustained cooperation of the American people.

You can read an elaborated paragraph on each of the findings here.

Do you think that if a bio-terror attack or even a mutated virus wrecked havoc in the U.S. that all these things would fall into place like they should?  This was in 2001!  Twelve years later are we better prepared?  Are resources in place?

The conclusion, according to the findings are:

…the Dark Winter exercise, the intention was to inform the debate on the threat posed by biological weapons and to provoke a deeper understanding of the numerous challenges that a covert act of bioterrorism with a contagious agent would present to senior level policy makers and elected officials. Since the Dark Winter exercise, the country has endured the horrific events of 11 September, as well as anthrax attacks through the US postal system. Bioterrorism is no longer just the subject of war games and the source of “futuristic and disturbing topics for…[Congressional] committee meetings” ([33], p. 2454). Many of the challenges and difficulties faced by the Dark Winter participants, unfortunately, have been paralleled in the response to the recent anthrax attacks. The Dark Winter exercise offers instructive insights and lessons for those with responsibility for bioterrorism preparedness in the medical, public health, policy, and national security communities and, accordingly, helps shine light on possible paths forward.

Again, this simulation took place in 2001.  Do you believe we are in better shape now?

Take a look at the video below and answer the question for yourself.  Admittedly, the video was created to promote a multi-shooter game called The Division.  But how far from fiction is this?

Tom Clancy’s The Division from Patrick Clair on Vimeo.
(1) Wikipedia Article


This article first appeared on Ed That Matters.

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Todd Sepulveda

I'm the owner/editor of Prepper Website, a DAILY preparedness aggregator that links to the best preparedness articles on the internet. I'm also a public school administrator and a pastor. My personal blog is Ed That Matters, where I write about preparedness and from time to time, education. Connect with me on one of my social media outlets below.

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2 thoughts on “Heard of Operation Dark Winter?

  1. Practical Parsimony

    My son born in 1968 had a smallpox vaccination, right on schedule. When it was time for the child born in 1970 to have a smallpox vaccination, I was told she did not need it, that smallpox had been eradicated. I knew in every fiber of my being that no disease was eradicated, just the incidence and the reporting. When the child born in 1975 was four, I had muddled this in my mind for many years.

    I knew that if a smallpox outbreak occurred, maybe only children, my grandchildren could get the vaccine. I did not want to have my children sacrificed for my children’s child/children. I did not want gov’t policy killing my adult children.

    Besides, I did not want only one of three protected. I felt very guilty.

    So, the health department was very uncooperative, demanding to know why. I told them. The woman said it would NOT be free, that I would HAVE TO pay for it. How much? With much animosity, she said, “$1.”

    My oldest daughter’s children are 18 and 12. Son’s children are 8 and 6. For the last six months, I have been considering trying to convince my children to vaccinate their children for smallpox.

    Back then and even now, a biological smallpox attack is not my concern. I just know diseases persist in nature. We may just control the incidence until nature unleashes the disease mechanism.

    I have had over a dozen smallpox vaccinations. It was part of doctor ordered cure for horrid canker sores in my mouth when I was in my early 20s. The canker sores finally went away and never came back.

  2. Army staff

    I was briefed out on Dark Winter as it happened working in an operations center from 1993 to 2003. This one exercise was a game changer and much bigger problem that the suitcase from Allah or a conflict in the Persian Gulf. The truth is that if ever we experience an economic dislocation in the US of any kind it will be followed by a biological disaster from contaminated water and poor hygiene. All the FEMA action in the world will not save the majority population here and the third world will cease to exist. Nothing we can do will stop it if it ever gets going. Hunker down, avoid contact with everyone, and pray is about you could do to get through.

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