Friday, February 27, 2009

From Elmhurst to Springfield

Artist Fulfills Childhood Dream on 'The Simpsons'

The words fear and intimidation are not words that you would immediately associate with Orlando Baeza upon meeting him. He is an imposing figure, at 6’3 and weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 245 pounds, and he has an extremely jovial personality. However, Baeza, one of the lead artists for the Emmy award-winning series ‘The Simpsons’, would be the first to candidly admit that there is indeed a strong connection between himself and these words, particularly with regard to numerous incidents during his rise as an artist. Moreover, he strongly believes that it was fear and intimidation that drove him to take drastic action after a near fatal incident. In this exclusive interview with the 17-year veteran of the show, Baeza discusses his introduction to art as a child; how being afraid of success and the unknown nearly crippled him; and the excruciatingly painful decision he made to risk it all in order to obtain a better life for his family.

G-Man: What is your nationality, and did your parents stress the importance of achievement and ‘Latino pride’ in the home?

OB: I’m originally from Cuba. My family came to the United States in 1965. My parents were very supportive of my talent and pushed me to achieve all my goals. They also made sure I had a strong sense of Cuban culture and tradition, which is something I impart to my kids.

G-Man: Where did you spend your childhood, and was it difficult growing up there?

OB: I grew up in an area called East Elmhurst, New York. It’s in the borough of Queens. I didn’t find it difficult growing up there at all. Actually, it was great. Everybody in my neighborhood, and in others from what I could tell, got along just fine. It wasn’t until after I got married that I left Elmhurst and moved to the Bronx. To tell you the truth, I really loved growing up in New York. It was a great opportunity because the diversity of the city really helped to nurture my artistic talents and imagination. I suspect there are many people in New York pursuing careers in the creative arts who would agree. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something special about New York City that fuels your creative passion.

G-Man: How, and at what age, did you become interested in drawing and animation?

OB: I remember drawing ever since I was about four or five years old. My mother always brought me drawing pads and pencils to keep me occupied as a kid. I loved drawing. There would be times when hours would go by and I would still be doing sketches in my room. (Laughing) I would get started, get on a roll, and the next thing I knew mom was calling me for dinner!

G-Man: Did you devote a great deal of time to drawing as a youth? If so, what type of drawings did you place the most emphasis on?

OB: Oh, man! I spent lots of time drawing and practicing. My favorite things to draw were pictures of my family and various cartoons from newspapers, magazines and my imagination. As I got older, I dedicated my weekends to something called “life drawing class”, which was an art class that pretty much prepared you for high school.

G-Man: When you started out, did you ever consider venturing into the abstract or classical art forms that have been associated with many of the world’s great artists?

OB: I was accepted to the High School of Art and Design, which is located on 57th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan. I studied there for four years and was introduced to various art forms. My high school years were the most important and fun times of my life, but they were also the most confusing. The school taught me so many new and different ways to apply my talents that I literally didn’t know what area of art to choose from. It was really difficult trying to make that decision. The school was that good, and it provided me with all of the tools necessary to become a successful artist. (Laughing) Honestly speaking, I was a proud graduate, but I was also a confused one.

G-Man: What other schools did you attend to enhance your animation skills?

OB: After high school, I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. I was pursuing a career in fashion design. Somehow, I ended up working in animation. This is where the skills I acquired in high school proved to be extremely beneficial. I was able to excel in many of my classes, and I really began to find my niche as an artist.

G-Man: What was the most challenging aspect of finding an animation job after you graduated college?

OB: I was on a completely different path when I left college. While in college, I was offered great jobs. Some of them were overseas positions. I turned them down for all kinds of reasons that didn’t make much sense, as I look back on it now. That was a strange period in my life, but I’ve learned that’s just the way life is. It presents us with opportunities that are right in front of us, but we fail to see them for one reason or another. When I graduated high school I could have worked freelance for a couple of art galleries. I chose not to. While attending F.I.T., I was offered a fashion illustration position in Japan. Again, I passed on it. I guess I was waiting for the perfect job. I eventually learned that you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. You can’t sleep on anything, and you can’t be afraid of change. It took another 14 years for me to get an opportunity to work in the animation field. I was given that chance courtesy of my brother, thank God, who at that time was working as a director in the field.

G-Man: What type of jobs did you have prior to the show?

OB: Wow! Dude, I had all types of jobs. They ranged from construction work to a ticket agent and cashier at New York City’s Off-Track-Betting (Laughing) I spent way too many years of my life working at OTB!

G-Man: Everyone has what they consider to be a turning point in their lives. What was yours and describe your most painful moment as an artist, husband and father?

OB: Great question! It was a Monday, and I was going to get my taxes done. I took my son, who was still very young at that time, with me to H&R BLOCK in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx. When we got back to the car, the passenger window where my son would have been sitting was shot out. (A pause, eyes tearing) I looked at my son, I grabbed him, and I held him close for several minutes. It was at that very moment that I realized it was time to get my family out of the Bronx. I had to move somewhere safe for my kids to grow up. That was a crucial turning point. I realized I had to raise the level of my game, with regard to being a father, significantly. In so doing, I knew that I would raise the level of my game as an artist as well.

I would not have been able to live with myself if something happened to my family simply because of my work situation. I knew in my heart that a better life awaited us. It was just a matter of me wanting to take a chance to find it. I pleaded with my wife, Wanda, to let me go to California to try and make something happen. She agreed, and I left with about $2,000 in my pocket. It was very, very hard leaving my family, but it proved to be the right move. Six months later, I was hired to work on The Simpsons. Shortly after, I moved the entire family to California, including my wife’s parents.

"My wife Wanda has always been there during my struggles. I was very lucky to marry a woman that supported my dreams and continues to do so."

G-Man: What has proved to be the best thing about working on ‘The Simpsons’?

OB: The best thing about it is I’ve been given the opportunity to work on an Emmy award-winning show. The team I work with is amazing, and it’s a great atmosphere to work in. (Laughing) Living in Southern California isn’t a bad thing either. At first, my wife wasn’t very sure about the whole moving to California thing. Let me tell you man, she’s a New York girl to the bone! However, after fourteen years of success and near perfect weather, I don’t think we’re going anywhere. The kids were young when we relocated. Tanya was 13 and “Orly” (Orlando Baeza, Jr.) was only 7. You could say it’s been a long vacation for them, but now they call California home. Working on an animated show for 14 years is unheard of in this industry, and the opportunity has been a true blessing. (Laughing) I guess this was the right job, huh? I’m a very lucky man.

G-Man: In researching you, it was discovered that you were an accomplished basketball player in your youth. Now, you have a son that many college scouts have touted as ‘the real deal. Would it be fair to say that the same passion and drive you have for animation was instilled in your son regarding basketball?

OB: Whoa! (Smiling) You’re reaching back in the day now. Man! You’re good at finding stuff out, huh?

G-Man: I do a little digging when I have to.

OB: (Laughing) I see that!! (Pause) I played for my high school and had a couple of schools show interest, but at that time I never thought I could make a living playing basketball. In college, I tried out for the team and made all the cuts, but between my classes and working part-time, I couldn’t devote myself to the game. I stepped away, and the team won the state championship that year. (Grinning) Leaving the team was another one of those great decisions I made, considering the starting player at my position played behind me in high school. Later, I would play in the Puerto Rican leagues for a few months, but my best basketball was played at “The Cage” on West 4th Street in Manhattan. I had lots of fun, but I didn’t make any money.

Now, as fate would have it, my son has enjoyed all the opportunities that basketball has to offer. He had multiple scholarship offers from schools all over the country. I have no doubt that his passion for the game will allow him to have an exceptional career as a player, coach or an analyst. The experience he obtains now will pay dividends in the future. Like me, his future will be determined by the decisions he makes today, his drive and tireless preparation. My daughter is the same way. She just graduated from college, and I have no doubt she will become just as successful as her brother. (Smiling) That's my baby girl.

G-Man: Are you an anomaly, or would you say the industry is doing a good job when it comes to hiring Latino animators, particularly on major projects like ‘The Simpsons Movie' or ‘Happy Feet’?

OB: I would say the studios do their best when looking for and hiring talent, but sometimes that’s only limited to local areas. I’d like to see more of them look outside the region. In other words, if a large percentage of the animation jobs are located in California, the studios tend to look for California applicants. Also, parents and teachers need to do a better job of locating opportunities for their children and students. The really good animation schools and jobs may not always be in their area or state. As was the case with me, your dream job could be 3,000 miles away.

G-Man: What are the three essentials that every young person must have if they are considering a career in animation?

OB: Lots of practice, great schooling, like the High School of Art and Design in New York City, and a good support system from parents, teachers or mentors. I would add one more, and that is they need to have the drive and talent to pursue their dream. If all of these things are in place, they can accomplish anything. If I managed to go from Elmhurst and the Bronx to hanging with the Simpsons in Springfield, then no dream or goal is too great for them to achieve.

Beyond the Beat: DJ Jenny Costa

A Legend Flourishes in a Male Dominated Industry

The incomparable Jenny Costa launched her master-mixing career at the tender age of 16 by building an impressive catalog of music, which included Latin, Disco and R&B classics. Costa has often credited her father Angelo, a former orchestra musician, as the person who introduced her to the world of music. This was also the age that she received her big break as a professional deejay by mixing for the original “Disco 92 - WKTU” in New York City. Disco music was sweeping the country when she manned the radio station turntables, and each week her popularity soared as one of the very few female deejays on the airwaves. Costa was at the station since its inception and has received platinum albums for her role as a Billboard reporter and helping to promote artists who went on to obtain major success. One of the most noted is the music superstar Madonna.

Costa has always displayed an intense passion for her craft. Those who have experienced the frenzy she creates in many of New York City’s popular dance clubs are now dedicated fans and supporters. She has also developed a devoted fan base in Europe and the Caribbean, as well as other areas of the U.S., as a result of her amazing ability to mix different genres of music, such as Latin, dance classics, freestyle, hip-hop, house and current dance. Some of her favorite artists include Andre Bocelli, James Brown, Diddy, Luther Vandross, Whitney and Barry White.

Many within the music industry are keenly aware that the groundbreaking deejay harbors an intense love for Salsa music. Needless to say, Costa can “get busy” on the dance floor as well as in the deejay booth. She is a consummate performer on many levels. The “DJ Diva of Dance Music” reached a major milestone several years ago by accomplishing something that has never been done in the history of New York radio. She was the very first recipient of the New York Metro A.I.R. Award for Best Mix Show DJ. Two of the distinguished presenters and guest speakers in attendance were Governor George Pataki and Sean “Diddy” Combs. The event was held at B.B. Kings Theater in Manhattan. Costa is an extremely private person and rarely grants interviews, but the legendary deejay took time out of her hectic schedule for a candid discussion about her career, personal life and representing women in a male dominated industry.

G-Man: How did you become involved with mixing dance music?

JC: After sneaking into a club when I was a kid, it pretty much started from there. I fell in love with the music and the art of deejaying.

G-Man: Was there a specific deejay that influenced you?

JC: Yes. Actually, there were several. I really liked Paul Cassella, Tony Cintorino, Richie Kazar, Larry Levan and Tommy Savarese.

G-Man: Describe the first time you played live on New York’s original “Disco 92 – WKTU”.

JC: I was about 16, and I remember my hands shaking, being nervous and being so excited all at the same time.

G-Man: How many turntables or CD decks can you actually mix on at one time?

JC: Four.

G-Man: At what point did you realize you would make a career out of mixing?

JC: I realized I could make a career out of it when people kept asking me to deejay parties and nightclubs.

Costa started her career as a mix-master at the age of 16 in New York City and quickly developed an enormous fan base. International film star Raquel Welch became a devoted fan and friend. The duo is pictured at the legendary nightclub “La Shea”, circa 1987.

G-Man: Have you faced scrutiny or intolerance as a female deejay?

JC: I always have, and I still do. I have to work harder and have more credentials than my male counterparts. With all of my accomplishments, I still don’t get the jobs, recognition or positions I should be getting.

G-Man: As is the case in many professions, do females make far less than male deejays?

JC: Yes. Although I do well, I know for a fact that men who have similar or lesser credentials or experience make more than I do.

G-Man: What is the one key thing that has allowed you to remain at the top of your profession for close to 30 years?

JC: Trusting God to guide me, first and foremost. If I could just mention two more keys to my success, I would say knowing how to read the crowd and focusing on playing for the people who come to listen to me deejay, rather than playing for myself. I make sure people are having a good time, and I try my hardest to make everyone happy.

G-Man: If you hadn’t become a deejay, what profession would you have chosen and why?

JC: I probably would have been a Broadway dancer. I have always loved dancing and entertaining people. At one point, I did become a ballroom dance teacher. I also was a dancer in a Latin band….back in the day. (Laughing)

G-Man: What has been your greatest accomplishment as a deejay?

JC: (Pause) I’d say it’s the fact that I’m still able to deejay and know that every new event is an opportunity to make that event, or nightclub, a joyous experience for people.

G-Man: What has been your biggest regret as a deejay?

JC: Wow! (Pause) I guess I’d have to say that I never really got a mobile deejay company started from early on. Even though I was approached by many people to start a mobile company, I always turned it down. The mobile business is booming and in high demand.

G-Man: Name some of the legendary artists you’ve worked with.

JC: You had to go there, right? (Smiling) Okay, here goes. Gloria Gaynor, Shannon, Tavares, Claudia Barry, Kool & The Gang, The Trammps, Evelyn Champaign King, Sister Sledge, Madonna, TKA, Coro, George Lamond, Lucas Prata, Judy Torres, Cynthia, Cover Girls, Expose', Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, Stephanie Mills, Johnny Kemp, Claudia Barry, Raquel Welsh, Donna Summer, Barbara Streisand, Lolletta Holloway, Vince Montana, Van McCoy, Tito Puente, Hector Levoe, Ray Barretto, and Eddie Palmieri, to name a few. (Smiling)

G-Man: I had to ask, right? (Laughing) If you could play Madison Square Garden for one night only with one legendary deejay, living or dead, whom would you choose and why?

JC: I would love to play with Junior Vasquez because I love his style and his work.

G-Man: Many Christians view dance clubs as “dens of sin” and believe no true Christian belongs in them under any circumstances. You being a devout Christian, what is your response?

JC: If you think about it, every workplace is a potential "den of sin". It's up to us, as Christians, to bring light into our workplaces and everywhere else we go. There are so many scriptures in the Bible that encourage us to be joyful, make a joyful noise and dance unto the Lord. God would rather have me in that position than someone who didn’t know Him or have any Christian principals. I’ve been told by many people that they felt my mix show was like medicine. It just made them feel good and happy. Little do they know, I pray about it all the time. I ask God to show me how to bless His people and to help me make the right decisions, musically. So many people have approached me and said this, meaning music, is my ministry. It's what I’m anointed to do, which is to entertain God's people.

It's not easy trying to please everyone, but I do the best I can. When I’m having a bad night, I always pray and somehow there is always someone there to encourage me and tell me that I’m doing a great job. There is one guy who always pops up out of nowhere and starts whistling and cheering. It's the wildest thing! All I can tell you is that God is great! Sometimes, I pray that God direct me to do something else, but I’m always led back to what I’ve been called to do, and that's performing as a deejay. I was listening to a teaching by this preacher named Joyce Meyers, whom I support and partner with. She was teaching about how she was anointed to do what she does, which is preaching. She stressed that everyone has their own anointing. When noting the example that some people have a singing ministry, she made everyone laugh by stating, “You wouldn’t want to hear me sing.” It’s the same with me. (Laughing) I can't sing or even play an instrument. The bottom line is we all have our anointing, and God has shown me, time and time again, that mine is music.

G-Man: What was your most embarrassing or humorous moment as a deejay?

JC: I was performing at a club one night and a friend of mine removed the needle from one of my turntables. I had to pick up the needle on the remaining turntable and play the same song over and over again until he gave me back the needle. I got on the microphone, called his name, and asked, "Can I please have my needle back? Oh, by the way, your wife is on the phone!" Everyone in the club started laughing because he was there trying to pick up some girl. He wasn’t really married at the time. (Laughing)

G-Man: Name three things DJ Jenny Costa absolutely cannot live without.

JC: God, people and music.

G-Man: Complete this sentence: People would be shocked to know I…..

JC: Don’t like doing interviews! (Smiling)

Costa's dance mixes can be heard on 103.5 FM (WKTU) every weekday at noon and every Friday night from 10pm to 12am.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Al Qaeda: Unleashing Hell on Earth!

Dr. Stephen Morse is Founding Director and Senior Investigator for the Center for Public Health Preparedness at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. He also serves as an Associate Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Columbia University.

A Leading Bioterrorism Expert Discusses Dangers & What You Can Do

Al-Qaeda still maintains a global presence and is vastly increasing in number. This is a sobering fact, but there is one other fact that is absolutely frightening. Recent data from federal government agencies, such as the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., indicate that their weapons of choice have been upgraded to include chemical, biological and possibly nuclear agents, as the terrorist organization and many of their offshoots now focus on generating casualties on a worldwide scale.

In an attempt to prevent or contain these potential threats, various crisis management centers and offices have been developed across the country and the globe through state and local governments. In the United States, the most widely recognized and respected of these facilities is the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP), a resource center at New York City’s Columbia University. The center is dedicated to the study, analysis and enhancement of the nation's ability to prepare for and respond to major disasters, including terrorism. According to the center’s website, “Particular areas of interest include readiness of the health and public health systems, health workforce and citizen readiness, disaster communications, national preparedness benchmarks and the needs of special populations.”

Given the extremely serious nature of the data in these government reports, I contacted the center and obtained this exclusive interview with Dr. Stephen Morse, Founding Director and Senior Investigator for the Center for Public Health Preparedness, at the NCDP, and Associate Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Columbia University.

G-Man: The U.S. has thwarted a number of planned attacks since September 11. However, Michael Chertoff, former Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, has stated to the media and the public that another attack is imminent. He also noted that the intelligence gathered indicates it will involve bioterrorism. Doctor, are you confident that your center and staff will be able to control or contain an attack of this nature?

Dr. Morse: You can never be prepared enough, and there’s no room for complacency. So, I wouldn’t ever use the word “confident”. It takes a lot of moving parts to make preparedness and response work. “Consequence management” -- controlling and containing the effects of an attack -- is a partnership of many agencies working together. Our center is here to provide information, scientific expertise, and training. For example, during the anthrax letter attacks of 2001, we spoke at community forums, handled almost 200 media inquiries, and provided training to doctors. This facility is part of a national network of Centers for Public Health Preparedness, now numbering about 40 nationwide, set up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2000.

At our institution in general, and at our city and state health departments, there has been a lot of attention to emergency preparedness. The anthrax attacks of 2001 that followed soon after 9/11 were very stressful for all concerned. These crises certainly should have sent the message that we need to be prepared for unexpected – even once unthinkable -- disasters. Obviously, health departments at every level (local, state, and federal), and the healthcare system, will have a very big role to play here, along with other agencies. Much will depend on the quality of the public health system (and the healthcare system), so it’s critical to sustain this system and keep it well oiled. I think my colleague, Dr. Irwin Redlener, puts it very well: “Events like 9/11, the anthrax attacks, and Katrina have been termed “wake-up calls”, but often seem more like snooze alarms. In addition to sustained funding, well trained people are essential.”

G-Man: Why are you so confident that your center will be able to handle a crisis situation if you’ve never experienced one in real time?

Dr. Morse: Although we haven’t experienced a large-scale attack, we did have the anthrax letters in the fall and winter of 2001. The incident was harrowing and painful, but it shed light on the many areas where we all need to do better. We have also had various natural infectious disease outbreaks in the last few years – both unexpected (West Nile; SARS in a number of places outside the United States), and more familiar (flu) – which have some of the same characteristics, including surprise. Of course, a large bioterrorist attack would be more challenging, at many levels. Since 2001, the government has greatly increased spending at both the federal and local levels for emergency preparedness, including readiness for bioterrorism and pandemic influenza. There have been a number of training and practice exercises. So, I think we’re further along. Am I completely confident? Of course not because there’s still a lot of work to do, and preparedness has to be a constant process.

G-Man: Are you equally confident that similar facilities across the nation will perform in the same capacity during crisis situations?

Dr. Morse: Everyone will do their best, of course, but there will be differences. Some are very well prepared now, while other places are still getting started. This will depend on resources and having well trained personnel with the right skills, in particular. In recent years, especially since 9/11, local agencies and healthcare facilities have been encouraged to plan for unusual emergencies and to develop mutual aid agreements to share resources. Programs such as “Project Public Health Ready” for local health departments, works with a network of Centers for Public Health Preparedness to support them with training and assistance, and special federal funding for hospital preparedness and the states have helped bring many health departments and healthcare facilities to at least a basic level of preparedness. But it’s still not a seamless system, and we really need to keep at it. In a major attack, in addition to the sheer numbers of people who will need help, there will be challenges such as communication between jurisdictions, coordinating different agencies, and getting accurate information as rapidly as possible.

G-Man: When the “Bird Flu” crisis was being discussed in America, government officials and a number of leading scientists conducted press conferences to note the effectiveness of Tamiflu in combating the illness. If the intelligence gathered by the C.I.A., F.B.I., Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clearly mentions the chemicals terrorists plan to use in an attack, have any sample vaccines or antidotes been produced? If so, why hasn’t the information been conveyed to the public?

Dr. Morse: There’s no simple answer. It will really depend on what we get hit with, and we will probably not know many details in advance. The key is early recognition and quick response. In some cases, we may have effective antibiotics (or antiviral drugs) and vaccines. Many of the bacteria we often mention as bioterrorism threats, like anthrax, can be treated successfully IF we identify the victims and get to them early enough. The same is true in the case of smallpox, which is a virus, and some others. We have vaccines for some of these infections as well. In other cases, such as flu pandemic, it may take months to produce a vaccine. Until then, we’ll be recommending good hygiene, avoiding crowds, staying home as much as possible, and perhaps drugs like Tamiflu, if appropriate.

For chemical agents, we do have specific antidotes for some of them, and prompt medical treatment can help save many lives even when we don’t have a specific antidotal. Again, rapid identification and response is the key. You pose an excellent question, G-Man. Why don’t we provide more information to the public? I firmly believe that we should. It’s one of the most important things we can do. I think it’s often forgotten in the heat of the debate, or authorities are afraid of frightening people or saying the wrong things. We all need to become much better at educating the public and keeping everybody as well informed as possible. By the way, the CDC website is a very good source of information. Your readers can get information at

G-Man: The public has a right to know about the horror and devastation associated with this type of attack, so don’t sugarcoat your response to this question. Can you present at least two worst-case scenarios, the signs and/or symptoms, and an approximation of how many would die as a result?

Dr. Morse: I’m afraid anyone with a little imagination can come up with lots of possible scenarios. One of the simplest may be a plane flying over a city and releasing anthrax. The World Health Organization estimated that 50 kilograms (about 100 pounds) of anthrax released this way in a city of 5 million would probably cause 250,000 cases and 100,000 deaths, with possible effects for 10 miles or more. This was a very conservative estimate. Anthrax, when inhaled, starts as a flu-like illness, then (usually after a temporary improvement in the patient’s symptoms) progresses in a few days to a severe pneumonia and then rapidly moves to affect almost all the organs. About half the victims get meningitis, an inflammation of the lining covering the central nervous system, with a lot of hemorrhaging there. Untreated, inhalation anthrax is about 90% fatal.

Personally, I worry about a natural event: influenza pandemics. A pandemic is an epidemic that essentially covers the world. The greatest known influenza pandemic, in 1918-1919, claimed over 500,000 lives in the United States, and probably at least 50 million worldwide. Many were healthy young adults. We hope that’s the rare exception, but if a pandemic of that severity happened today, according to CDC’s calculations, it would be likely to cause almost 2 million deaths in the U.S. alone.

G-Man: If Al-Qaeda cells launch a chemical, biological or small-scale nuclear attack in the U.S., what does the center suggest people do if they’re in these settings: on the street or at an outdoor sporting event; on a train (underground during rush-hour); on an airplane; in an office building; in a car (while on a bridge) or in their homes?

Dr. Morse: First of all, remember that for any individual, the statistical chances that it will happen to you personally are very, very small. An exception is the natural outbreak of pandemic influenza, which will infect a large percentage of the population. It’s a matter of being in or near the area when the attack is occurring or, hopefully, not being there. These three types of attacks (chemical, biological, or nuclear) are different in important ways.

A chemical attack usually shows its results very quickly. If you see people suddenly stricken, the key is to get to a location that has fresh air as quickly as you safely can, wherever you are, and make sure you are not running in the direction of the wind. If I were in a car, I’d roll up my windows and turn off the air conditioning until I can get further away. In a plane, which is enclosed, open the air vents to bring in outside air, get as far away from the source as possible and cover your nose and mouth with a moist cloth. You can also use your scarf or necktie. Covering your nose and mouth is generally recommended for all these events, although they probably don’t do that much (biological is a possible exception). Then, seek medical attention if you start feeling ill, having breathing difficulties, or any skin or eye irritations.

Biological attacks are not immediately obvious. Even if you see someone running around spraying something, which is highly unlikely, who knows what they’re spraying? The illness from a bio-attack will take several days to develop, for some (like smallpox) even up to a couple of weeks. Many start as “flu-like illnesses” that rapidly get worse. I’d suggest seeking medical attention for a flu-like illness that makes you feel sicker than the flu usually does and comes with abdominal pain, chest pain, or a spreading rash, especially if you don’t have a runny nose. Call your doctor immediately. Chances are, if you were exposed, so were others, and the attack may already have been identified by the time you get sick.

Radiological dispersion devices (“dirty bombs”) may not be immediately obvious either. You may be aware of the explosion but may not know it had radioactive material in it. This may be discovered later when law enforcement or public health authorities check the bombed area for radioactivity. If you were too far to be affected by the explosion, that is, fairly far away, you’ll probably okay. Get away from the area, and seek medical evaluation.

A “small” nuclear explosion (NOT a “dirty bomb”, but a real nuke) is a different story. According to Graham Allison at Harvard, a 10-kiloton atom bomb (a fairly small one – roughly the equivalent of the bomb used in Hiroshima during World War II) would instantly vaporize anyone, and almost everything, within 1/3 of a mile from the blast site. At ¾ mile, most people would be killed or seriously injured, and there would be severe damage to buildings. At a 1-mile radius, there would be considerable injury or death from radiation and firestorms. Allison’s website allows you to generate a map of this for any U.S. zip code of your choice. If you can see the blast, DO NOT look at it. If you’re well over a mile away, try to move on if you safely can in a direction away from the wind (just as for a chemical attack).

The radiation goes in all directions, but the radioactive particles and fire will mainly follow the wind. If you’re in a car, getting away may be difficult due to traffic jams. In most cases, it will make little difference – if you’re far enough away, you may not be affected in any case. Stay in the car and roll up the windows. When feasible, recognizing that the hospitals will be busy with people much worse off, seek medical attention. People who received a moderate dose of radiation develop “radiation sickness” (vomiting, diarrhea, loss of hair, and other symptoms) days to weeks after, depending on the dose, and need immediate medical attention.

G-Man: There are many hospitals in low-income communities, nationwide, that aren’t equipped to handle triage situations, let alone a national catastrophe, because of financial constraints. Does the center have a plan in place that will enable people in underserved areas to receive the appropriate care and treatment in an emergency situation?

Dr. Morse: In the long term, ensuring access to care is a government responsibility. There is a need to make sure everyone has good access to healthcare. That should be a right, not a privilege. However, many excellent hospitals are in low-income communities (our own hospital is an example) or have outreach programs. Except possibly for rural areas, most will have the same chance at the emergency room as everyone else. However, there may be big differences in the education and information members of these communities receive. Our center, as well as others, is working on how best to inform and educate different ethnic communities so they can get good information they trust.

G-Man: Are there any “home remedies” or marketed products that may serve as a defense against chemical or biological agents?

Dr. Morse: In general, no. First, remember that, tragic as these events are, the chance of you or your family being directly in the danger zone is very small. I think the best defense is to keep well informed, both before any attack and while the event is going on. Incidentally, there are very few products I could recommend without reservations. There are no real lines of defense against chemical or biological attacks, and companies are cashing in on public concern by selling “protection devices” at inflated prices. Many of them are of poor quality. A high efficiency mask, FDA approved N-95 type respirator, which is good for protection against biological attack, is now available over the counter at many pharmacies and chain stores. But in a biological attack, it’s often impossible to know when to put it on and when it’s safe to take it off. Moreover, the masks are very uncomfortable! This sort of problem occurs with almost every product.

In most cases, you won’t be in the danger area anyway, and by time the attack is recognized it makes no sense to start taking precautions. If you are fairly near but not in the danger zone, try to stay indoors as much as possible, keep the windows closed if you can, and close off the outside air supply for the air conditioning until your local authorities give the “all-clear” in your area. Some people like indoor “HEPA” air filters. They can be useful, especially for biological events, and they also help with allergies. However, the filters must be properly maintained. In general, keep informed and updated, and adapt to the situation.

G-Man: What can people do to protect very young children and pets?

Dr. Morse: I think the most important thing is to have a family emergency plan. Emergencies may happen when the children are in school, for example. Ask the school authorities whether they will shelter the children there, or expect parents to come pick them up. It helps to know in advance so you can plan accordingly. A form can be downloaded at

G-Man: Given an attack of this magnitude, one could assume that many areas would be quarantined and that large quantities of food would be contaminated. Thus, people would not be able to shop or could unknowingly consume noxious products already in the home. What do you suggest people do in this case?

Dr. Morse: Many experts recommend keeping at least several days’ supply of canned non-perishable food and bottled water. In most cases, these items will be safe to consume, especially if stored in enclosed areas like a closet or pantry. And if you don’t need medical attention, staying at home is often the best option.

G-Man: Finally, in your honest opinion, how likely is it that a large-scale bioterrorism attack will occur on U.S. soil in the next two to three years?

Dr. Morse: Anyone who says they can predict this with any accuracy is either naive, a charlatan, or clairvoyant. With that said, the honest answer is I can’t say for sure when an attack of this nature will occur. It could take more than two to three years. However, I can say with utmost certainty that it will happen.