DHS to develop biosurveillance system for pandemic

The Homeland Security Department expects to award a contract in mid-summer to develop the National Biosurveillance Integration System, a critical piece of the administration's strategy to handle a pandemic, such as avian flu.

DHS plans for an initial version of the biosurveillance information management system six months after the award, said Kimothy Smith, DHS chief veterinarian, chief scientist and acting deputy chief medical officer.

The biosurveillance system will aggregate and integrate information from food, agricultural, public health and environmental monitoring and the intelligence community from federal and state agencies and private sources to provide an early warning system for an outbreak or possible bioterrorism attack.

'By integrating and fusing this large amount of available information, we can begin to develop a baseline or background against which we can recognize anomalies and changes of significance indicating potential biological events,' he told the House Homeland Security Committee's prevention of nuclear and biological attack subcommittee yesterday.

DHS will combine the biosurveillance patterns and trends with threat information and include the completed product in its Common Operating Picture, which DHS distributes through the Homeland Security Information Network. The biosurveillance system will also send back to its system partner agencies completed situational awareness in real-time streams.

DHS established a pilot in December to test basic operational capability. It provides internal connectivity and produces daily and weekly situational awareness reports for DHS and some interagency partners but chiefly acts as a test-bed environment to understand the requirements for the full information management system, Smith said.

The challenge is for the biosurveillance system to accept large quantities of diverse information in any format, standardize the data and prepare it for use with data from other sources, he said.

Information will come from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's BioSense system, which reports syndromic surveillance from hospitals and pharmacies, and the BioWatch system, which monitors aerosols for biothreat agents in major metropolitan areas. DHS leads and funds BioWatch, but CDC, the Environmental Protection Agency and the FBI operate it.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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