1715.0 White Powder in Georgia: Responding to Cases of Suspected Anthrax After 9/11
In the wake of the mailing of apparent terrorist letters poisoned by the toxin anthrax in October, 2001, and resulting deaths in Florida, New York and Connecticut, public health authorities throughout the United States found themselves inundated by hundreds of reports of suspicious white powders found in the mail or public places. Although authorities believed that, in all likelihood, the overwhelming majority of these cases were either hoaxes or panicked responses to ordinary substances, it was difficult to rule out foul play without further investigation. Responding to every call and every powder, however, threatened to overwhelm the limited capacity of public health laboratories-and thus to make citizens virtually no more secure than no response at all. This case tells the story of how authorities in the state of Georgia developed operational protocols to employ in managing their response to thousands of reports of suspicious substances. Specifically, it describes how law enforcement and public health officials coordinated their responses, and the manner in which they decided which calls should receive priority. Ultimately, it became clear that there were no anthrax bacteria in any of situations to which Georgia officials were summoned by concerned citizens. What remained, however, was a system officials hoped would remain in readiness for the future. This case draws on interviews with public health, police, fire and civil defense officials in Georgia.