Since October 2001 the possibility of intended disease outbreaks has been put forward repeatedly in many countries. The history of such events and their impacts are explored and may surprise many by what is possible and yet the uncertainty of the risk. At the same time we can be sure that the ‘old’ diseases will continue to occur. In our global economy, what happens in one corner of the world can threaten us all, and sooner rather than later. The events of the present H5N1 avian influenza pandemic remind us that we do have to be concerned with the threats imbedded in global trade but also with migratory birds ignorant of international boundaries and regulations.

It is the efficiency with which we plan for and confront traditional and emerging disease outbreaks that will predict our ability and confidence in tackling intentional outbreaks if, when, and where they occur. The cost of disease increases even as the incidence may decrease. And as the health and productivity of livestock have increased, the more we depend on a veterinary corps with decreasing hands-on experience in handling epidemics. This means that planning and training must depend on valid models. To prevent public panic, communications must be transparent. Laboratory support must be able to respond to surge demands as well as forensic investigations. These and other crucial dimensions such as compliance of Veterinary Services with OIE standards, early detection and rapid response to outbreaks – herd registration, rapid field diagnostics and data entry, inter-agency coordination, to take but a few – of where we must go are covered by recognised experts in this publication.