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The anthrax crisis, a comparison

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  1. Introduction
  2. Anthrax crisis: United States
  3. Anthrax crisis: France
  4. Conclusion

October 4, 2001- The public health laboratory in Jacksonville, Florida discovers American Media mailroom clerk, Robert Stevens, contracted anthrax. How could he have contracted this rare, bacterial disease? This question caused a great stir among the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the United States government, and the medical community. When the bacteria was found to be on an envelope, worries of contamination spread. Their primary hypothesis?biological terrorism?is also their greatest fear.

The media quickly latched on to the story, disseminating the fear even faster than the disease. Americans, still reeling from the September 11 attacks, constantly checked the news to find out what is happening, where new cases have been identified. At the mere sign of flu-like symptoms, they go to their doctors, causing a surge in medical facilities. The medical community asked for help from the CDC and the Health Department, and finds information and communication lacking. According to John Auerbach, executive director of the Boston Board of Health, ?We were getting information from journalists, for God's sake, not the CDC. There simply wasn't a good, accurate, timely internal communication system.?

[...] Had there been an actual outbreak of anthrax in France, it is unclear whether La Poste's measures would have been sufficient to contain the virus, as there was a limited infrastructure for contact with the Health Department. Furthermore, it is extremely worrisome that no procedure was communicated from the DGS, nor the AFSSAPS to La Poste during the time of crisis. Therefore, while the procedure of La Poste in facing the crisis was much more organized and efficient, it is impossible to rate it as a superior national effort to the American effort. [...]

[...] Since the crisis, La Poste held a debriefing session in order to better prepare for future crises. This formal step of learning from a crisis highlighted the advantage of La Poste over the American government organizations, in that it is a smaller organization, and therefore, more able to identify and streamline processes for crisis management. According to Yossi Sheffi, repeatability and collaboration are two key elements to diffusing risk Both goals are much more attainable for an organization with a singular focus, that is, mail delivery, than for an organization with a broader mandate (i.e., the CDC). [...]

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