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Partner Jamie Gorelick Participates in Bioterror Simulation That Highlights Continued Readiness Gaps

Partner Jamie Gorelick Participates in Bioterror Simulation That Highlights Continued Readiness Gaps

May 15, 2018

Partner Jamie Gorelick, along with other former and current top federal policymakers, participated on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in a tabletop exercise meant to better understand the kinds of high-level decisions that would be necessary in the event of an actual pandemic global outbreak of a potentially deadly pathogen.

Hosted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Health Security, the day-long exercise involved a scenario in which an Ebola-like virus called Clade X spread globally, with a shadowy terrorist organization suspected of spawning the pandemic.

Ms. Gorelick, a former Deputy Attorney General, played the role of Attorney General. Other participants included former US Senators Tom Daschle, a Democrat, and Jim Talent, a Republican who played the roles of Senate Majority Leader and Defense Secretary, respectively; Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN), the only person at the table who played the role she currently holds; Julie Gerberding, former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who reprised that role for the exercise, and Margaret Hamburg, former Food and Drug Administration Administrator who played the part of the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Ms. Gorelick chairs WilmerHale's Regulatory and Government Affairs Department and co-chairs the firm's Strategic Response Group. She was a member of the 9/11 Commission which investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US and recommended measures to improve Homeland Security.

Among the takeaways from the exercise was that, despite all the years of homeland security preparations since the 9/11 attacks, such a pandemic would quickly overwhelm the nation's healthcare system while the confluence of politics and public panic would only further impede an effective response.

By the end of the exercise, the simulated Clade X pandemic led to 15 million deaths in the US alone, 10 percent of the world total, and the collapse of the US economy and healthcare system. Part of the problem was the inability of governments in the US at all levels to coordinate their response. Indeed, sometimes they even worked at cross purposes during the simulation. 

At the end of the exercise, when participants shared their concluding thoughts, Ms. Gorelick said: “In the aftermath of 9/11 we had the 9/11 Commission. And I would say our most salient point was that there was a failure of imagination.” 

“We could not imagine an event like this and therefore we didn't approach the challenge with the kind of urgency that we would to break through some of the barriers…,” she said. “It really does call for our national leaders to lead by explaining the threat and explaining the possible solutions. There are concrete solutions to what we have seen here today, things that would have prevented the collapse of the economy, the deaths of tens of millions of people, untold other harm. And yet it is a failure of our own imagination to see that. That is the obstacle to the change.”