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Nov.24, 2014

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SUPPLY CHAIN LINKS 32 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE Jerry Peck NOVEMBER 24.2014 EBOLA AND SUPPLY CHAIN SECURITY THEY SAID IT would never come to America, and then it did. Then they said that it would be contained and could not spread, and then it did. And suddenly, like millions of other Americans, I watched incredulously not only at the frightening ease in which the Ebola virus was able to enter this country, but even more so at the series of missteps, mistakes and general displays of unprepared- ness that followed as our country's top experts scrambled to address the dilemma. With elements of the drama being broadcast live into our liv- ing rooms, the nation collectively witnessed the policies and proce- dures for dealing with this horrific disease to be astonishingly inept, as well as seemingly written on the fly. Preventive countermeasures that appeared to be so glaringly obvi- ous, such as restricting travel to the U.S. from a high-risk country, were discounted quickly as being an over- reaction and unnecessary. Instead, in classic reactive fash- ion, the "plan" was that a handful of major U.S. airports would begin screening arriving passengers who had recently been in an Ebola- stricken nation. But because it can take an exposed person up to three weeks before symptoms appear (at which point they also are considered contagious), the airport would pro- vide pamphlets instructing arriving passengers how to seek help if they became ill. Suddenly, I couldn't help but think, "Did we just get a preview as to what America's handling of a deliberate biological threat would look like?" And the questions con - tinued. A CNN report called the 20 quarantine stations designated by the CDC as the "first line of defense." Wait, isn't the first line of defense supposed to be at the point of origin? Why are we acting as if we've never contemplated how to keep a biological threat from enter- ing our county? Given Ebola's combined potential for substantial loss of life and eco- nomic disruption (the World Bank estimates the related economic loss to be as high as $25 billion to West Africa alone), it certainly could qualify as a weapon of mass disrup- tion-level threat, so why not treat it as one? Ta ke Homela nd Security's defense of the international sup- ply chain, for example. Substit ute " W MD" w it h " Ebola ," a nd "freight conveyance" with "foreig n trav - eler," and the tactics are essentially identical. Here the approach is one of "pushing the borders out," combined with intel- ligence-based risk management and layers of physical screening, with the intended result of identi- fying and stopping a threat before it leaves the foreign point of depar- ture. If half the battle is in not letting it in, why aren't we simply emulating a proven process? In fact, it would be easier consid- ering that, unlike commercial trade where border protection policy must be balanced carefully with trade facilitation, the same doesn't hold true with foreign travel. That brings us back to the debate on imposing travel restrictions. On the Nov. 2 airing of "Meet the Press," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., per- haps summarized it best when he said, "The administration said that you couldn't catch Ebola from riding on a bus, and yet apparently you can be in an intensive care unit, gloved, gowned and masked and still get it. Given the risk, couldn't travel to the U.S. from West Africa countries to meet with relatives wait for a few months?" (In fact, since I started this piece, a number of U.S. sena - tors and other government officials have reversed their initial adversity to travel restrictions.) Here's an even scarier thought: If you take the Ebola-WMD anal- og y a step further, it leads us to another reason that would warrant ratcheting up our defense to Ebola, and hopefully it's one for the "What If" file only. Given the virus's fairly lengthy incubation period, what if a terrorist or other fanatic were to purposely expose her/himself, then find a point of entry into the country with the intent to draw upon their own bodily f luids as a means of deliberately spreading the virus? Far-fetched? I certainly hope so. But as a Dallas resident, I witnessed the fear, disruption and excruciating effort required to contain the threat for just three infected persons. I can hardly imagine the impact if the number had been 30, let alone 300 or 3,000. As they say, "perception is real- ity," and my perception is that we aren't nearly as prepared to deal with this type of threat as I thought we would be. JOC Jerry Peck is a licensed customs broker and global trade management expert with more than 30 years experience in regulatory compliance and GTM optimization solutions. Contact him at 469-235-5229, or at Why are we acting as if we've never contemplated how to keep a biological threat from entering our county?

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