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Biological and chemical disasters pose international threat


11 November 2005
An international surveillance system would save thousands of lives in the event of a biological disaster such as bird flu, according to Lorain Prevaux, a Southern Cross University PhD candidate.

Ms Prevaux, a medical intelligence analyst and member of the US Air Force Reserves, is in Australia to attend SCU's Doctoral Symposium, being held at the Tweed Gold Coast campus this weekend (November 11 to 13).

Her PhD study focuses on the current limitations and barriers which are preventing the implementation of an international biological-chemical surveillance system.

"At the moment there's not a trans-continental system in place. The main concern is without the earliest possible warnings and the ability to provide situational awareness it will cost us thousands of lives," Ms Prevaux said.

"Expedience is essential if you want to protect the general population. Germs and chemicals don't recognise international borders or geographical boundaries so the sooner we can identify a threat, the sooner we can mitigate the risks associated with it."

Ms Prevaux, who has a background as a paramedic, is a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton and provides analytical services and products for government clients. Through her diverse background with the military and civilian sectors she understands the importance of developing and nurturing collaborative international relationships.

Her research is looking at what policies are in place to ensure rapid and effective communication of potential threats, using the US, Great Britain and Australia as case studies.

She said bio-medical surveillance related to chemical, biological, nuclear and explosive incidents, whether they were accidental or intentional, and was an essential component of national preparedness leading to a new level of national security.

"We need to have an international process for how we communicate those threats to people. We also need to incorporate the education process at the lay person's level so that everyone understands the threat and how to respond appropriately to an event.

"Diseases transfer very quickly and within mere hours you can have multiple states and countries affected with a contagion (communicable disease) because the global community is efficiently connected through air, sea and land transportation networks."

Ms Prevaux said part of her project would look at how best to implement organisational change to ensure these types of situations were considered. This included the privacy concerns associated with employing monitoring and surveillance systems and integrating relevant information into a global network.

Her project is being supervised by Associate Professor Stewart Hase, from SCU's Graduate College of Management.

Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Liaison, 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748.