Frist Aides Were Prepared for Ricin Attack

When an aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) found suspicious powder in the lawmaker's office, the staff knew just what to do. They had prepared for this moment for years.

A former surgeon from Nashville, Tenn., Frist literally wrote the book on bioterrorism and advised his staff and other offices on how to guard against it.

That includes special handling of government mail, which is irradiated (search) before delivery -- a practice put in place after anthrax-laden letters were sent in 2001 to the Capitol Hill offices of then-Senate s very understandable for the rest of us," Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said Tuesday.

Lawmakers made similar comments about the latest scare. "We know that he knows what he's talking about," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

A freshman, Alexander said Frist advised him to prepare aides for the possibility of an attack by doing drills with special protective hoods.

Monday wasn't the first bioterrorism (search) scare to hit Frist's office directly. In 1999, a hoax letter purporting to contain anthrax was sent to a subcommittee he chaired.

Frist set up new mail procedures for his staff shortly afterward and began urging colleagues to seriously consider the threat of bioterrorism. He admitted to feeling frustrated that he had "not been able to capture the attention of either my colleagues or the American people."

Frist held hearings and pushed legislation to increase funding to protect against bioterrorist attacks in 1998. He didn't see the legislation become law until after the anthrax attacks.

But securing billions to stockpile vaccines, improve food inspections and boost security for water systems wasn't enough, Frist said. He said he wanted Americans to have an easy-to-read guide for them to protect against bioterrorism at home. So he set out to write a book about the subject.

The book, "When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism from the Senate's Only Doctor," was published about two years ago.

It is interspersed with stories about terrorism and includes practical information, such as what supplies to keep on hand in case of an attack. The book offers stark images, such as a chest X-ray of an anthrax (search) victim and a baby with smallpox lesions.

Frist said he was trying to educate and motivate people, not scare them. "The goal is to reduce the potential for panic and paralysis and to transform that potential into resolve, into calmly facing what can be done," he said.