The most effective means of defending against biological or chemical warfare, whether in war or as a result of terror, is the use of primary prevention. The main goal of such a prevention program is to minimize the human loss by reducing the number of casualties (fatalities, physical wounds, and psychological injury). A secondary objective is to prevent the widespread sense of helplessness in the general population. These two aims complement each other. The more the public is active in defending itself, rather than viewing itself as helpless, the lesser the expected number of casualties of any kind. In order to achieve these two goals, educating the civilian population about risk factors and pointing out appropriate defensive strategies is critical. In the absence of an effective prevention program and active participation by the public, there is a high risk for massive numbers of physical and psychological casualties.
An essential ingredient of any preventive program, which ultimately may determine the success or failure of all other protective actions, is early, gradual dissemination of information and guidance to the public, so that citizens can become active participants in the program. The public needs to be given information concerning the nature of the threat and effective methods of coping with it, should an unconventional attack occur. Lack of such adaptive behavior (such as wearing protective gear) is likely to bring about vast numbers of physical and psychological casualties. These large numbers may burden the medical, political, and public safety systems beyond their ability to manage. Failure to provide reasonable prevention and effective interventions can lead to a destruction of the social and emotional fabric of individuals and the society. Furthermore, inadequate preparation, education, and communication can result in the development of damaging mistrust of the political and military leadership, disintegration of social and political structures, and perhaps, even risk the collapse of the democracy.