The Oct. 10 editorial "Pandemic Preparedness" correctly concluded that implementing or enforcing a mass quarantine after a significant outbreak of contagious disease from a natural pandemic or a bioterrorism attack would be impossible. But the need for such a quarantine could be reduced if people voluntarily took shelter in their own homes and if the federal government helped communities plan to support such sheltering.

Limiting physical contact in affected areas could be critical to breaking a disease cycle. The key is to educate the public as to why sheltering in their homes, rather than fleeing and risking exposure, is best for them, their family, their community and their nation.

Localities must develop plans to support those who decide to stay at home by putting in place mechanisms for getting them food, medical resources and information. Employers should have plans to enable employees to work from home, and schools should devise ways for students to continue learning from home. This concept, called community shielding, empowers individuals to protect themselves and their families, with support from their com- munity, rather than setting up a confrontational relationship between government and the people, as with quarantines. But successful community shielding requires a significant public education campaign and government planning -- and a sense of urgency that finally may have arrived.



The writer was executive director of the National Commission on Terrorism in 2000.