While it may not be as dramatic as flying jetliners into buildings, or taking over a school, bioterrorism has the potential to kill far more people, WSU officials said.

The WSU College of Veterinary Medicine is on the front lines of the war on terrorism, part of a nationwide early warning system to detect if bioterrorists have struck the United States.

Last February, President Bush ordered the federal government to develop new procedures to protect the nation’s food supply from terror attack. He called for creation of systems to contain any outbreaks of plant or animal disease that result from terror attack, and to prevent or cure the diseases themselves.

It is vets who must fight those threats.

If terrorists try to contaminate cattle, poultry or other farm animals, Dr. Terry McElwain, director of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab, would be among the first to know.

The lab, created in 1974, can quickly perform tests on thousands of samples. After the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, the WSU lab became one of 12 in a national network responsible for spotting exotic disease outbreaks in animals. Veterinarians have extensive training in comparative medicine, diagnoses of exotic and emerging diseases, and diseases that affect both humans and animals, she noted. They are also trained to recognize symptoms of disease agents that would rank high among the options for terrorists.