Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola–Terrorist Weapon of Choice

Action cures fear, inaction creates terror. - Douglas Horton

Only the unknown frightens men. But once a man has faced the unknown, that terror becomes the known. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The #1206 “fiction” series continues ….

In a softly lit boardroom somewhere in the bowels of a non-descript building in Washington, DC, a group of people sat in silence as they listened to the presenter describe the latest data on the spread of the Ebola virus.

After he discussed the last data slide, he took a seat at the boardroom table in silence and allowed his presentation to sink in.

No one spoke for several minutes as the weight of the data pressed upon their minds.  News that they only had proper quarantine facilities for 9 Ebola patients at any given time was especially disturbing.

Finally, one of the Joint Chiefs leaned forward, cleared his throat and said “All of the data makes perfect sense to me except for one thing.  Why would there be a sharp increase in travel to the most heavily affected areas in Africa.  Wouldn’t most normal people prefer to stay away from such a disaster?”

The presenter stood up again and with the touch of a button, flashed a new slide on the screen.

“Allow me to answer your question this way, General.  What you are looking at, ladies and gentleman, are the flight itineraries of a number of Canadian, American and European citizens preparing to return home after trips abroad”, he said. 

He paused for a moment before saying, “There is only one slight problem.”

“And what is that?”, replied the General

“They all made extended stays in the Middle East, the Philippines and Somalia before proceeding to the heavily affected areas where we know Ebola infections are most wide-spread”, said the presenter quietly.

“Yes. So?”, demanded the General.

“What do you get when you combine a disease that is so contagious and has such a high mortality rate with a group of people who believe that dying in the name of their God gets them an automatic ticket to heaven?”, asked the presenter.

Deafening silence filled the room.

“My God”, someone whispered.

Suddenly the room exploded in multiple conversations as the General yelled “Get me the President now” into his cell phone.


Aaban woke to the sound of his alarm clock, rubbed his eyes blearily and attempted to roll out of bed.  The weakness had come upon him more quickly than he was told it would and he knew he didn’t have much time left.

He struggled out of bed, stumbled weakly to the window and pulled the curtains of his hotel room open.  Washington DC lay before him in all its splendor.

His cell phone rang as he gazed upon the buildings in front of him and looking towards the night table, he saw the caller id of his brother Aahil who was staying in New York.  He had wondered if Aahil, or James as he was once known, would have the courage to do what they were planning but they both knew that there was no turning back now.

He turned and stumbled back to bed.

There was no hurry.  He didn’t need to be at the White House until 2:00 pm.

To be continued.

© 2014 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Background / Food For Thought:

As someone who has spent a lot of years in emergency preparedness and business continuity for various Fortune 25 and government agencies, I can’t help but be struck by the reality that no matter how much time, energy and money we spend and no matter how much assurance we provide that we are prepared, every emergency takes us by surprise and we end up creating a solution on the fly – almost as if we thought of every scenario possible except for just about any real-life one.

The number of beds that we can support for true Ebola-level quarantine does in fact stand at a meager 9 at the time I wrote this for a nation of 330 million people.

Watching the hysteria developing over events such as the passenger on a flight from Nigeria to JFK who died on the flight after a fit of vomiting, the lady who started vomiting at the Pentagon and then claimed she had recently been to West Africa and Frontier Airlines warning 800 passengers who were on the same aircraft (separate flights) as an Ebola-infected nurse made me wonder “what if”.

Even if an infection could not be spread for nefarious reasons, the panic created by a media engine that serves no purpose other than to entertain or frighten would be worth the effort for some people.

I am not suggesting for a moment that Ebola was created by terrorists.  However, any sharp strategy person takes advantage of opportunities when presented to them.  There is also something to be said about what other nations may do on the global scene if they see us become consumed internally with such matters.

The government needs to be more transparent in outlining our levels of preparedness and readiness. 

And we the people need to spend more time demanding better of our government and ourselves in terms of preparedness.

It doesn’t start with them – it starts with us.

After all, we are all in this together and for that reason, maybe, just maybe, we should spend more time working together.

Series Origin:

This series, a departure from my usual musings,  is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

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