In the age of terrorism, sniffles or a rash could be something more sinister than Mother Nature at work.
With that in mind, nearly 100 Lawrence and Douglas County officials gathered Monday at the Lawrence Arts Center for a seminar on how to respond to a bioterrorism attack here.
The first lesson: Don't expect state or federal help quickly. It could take a few hours or a few days for assistance to arrive.
"We would like to think the state government, the federal government are going to be Johnny-on-the-spot," Paula Phillips, director of Douglas County Emergency Management, told the attendees. "But that's not going to happen. We're going to be on our own for a while."
Phillips acknowledged, however, that attacks might create more havoc than city and county governments could handle. Even with help, she said it would take a single vaccination team three months to inoculate the population of Douglas County against the outbreak of a deadly virus.
"Is that acceptable to you?" she asked. "It's not acceptable to me."
Area officials have already taken steps to prepare. This summer Douglas County received a three-year, $50,000 federal grant to purchase equipment for detection, personal protection and decontamination that would be used in a terror response. And they're planning a Nov. 1 exercise to test administrative procedures that would be used in an attack.
Those procedures include the convening of a "threat assessment team" made up of emergency, health and other officials to direct the evacuation and decontamination of affected areas and treatment of victims.
Animal health officials would also be involved, Phillips said. Kansas would be particularly susceptible to a virus that targets livestock.
"That could bankrupt the state," she said.
Phillips urged officials from a range of city and county departments to prepare for terror attacks.
"Literally, the buck stops here," she said. "The disaster begins here and ends here. And it doesn't end until the recovery is complete."