The details continue to trickle in from the deeply-flawed response to the Ebola case in Dallas (including the most recent revelation that a homeless man who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus has gone missing). All of this tells us one thing: 13 years after 9/11, the United States remains completely unprepared for a biowarfare attack.The spate of (still unsolved) anthrax attacks that followed the 9/11 terror attacks terrified the country—and rightly so. We have spent tens of billions of dollars since then on various methods to safeguard the country. That an Ebola patient slipped into the country tells us that we’ve still got problems at our ports of entry, and the confused and disordered response in Dallas to an actual Ebola case tells us that our hospitals, medical networks, and police are not well prepared for the kind of emergency that is all too possible.
It’s no secret that the Department of Homeland Security is one of the most dysfunctional bodies in the whole federal government. If the U.S. Congress is concerned about its abysmally low job ratings, here’s a suggestion: hold real hearings on this mess—no grandstanding, no cheap shots—and come up with some ideas. Do we need to break this department up? Reform the way it works? Decentralize some of these systems? With Ebola and now Marburg outbreaks in Africa, we have to expect that this won’t be the only time somebody brings a potentially devastating disease to the United States. Clearly, we aren’t ready for that—and clearly, we need to be.