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S&T: Supporting Our BioDefense System to Meet Evolving Threats

Posted by Dr. Tara O'Toole, Under Secretary for Science and Technology

Ten years ago, five people were killed and seventeen others became ill when letters containing anthrax were delivered through the mail. These incidents caused panic, confusion, and an avalanche of reports about suspicious packages and speculation about bio-terror attacks. In the decade since, the federal government has made significant gains in the country’s ability to detect, respond to, and recover from a deliberate biological incident. The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has played an important role in these advancements in collaboration with with Federal agencies, national laboratories, state and local governments, first responders, the medical and public health communities and the private sector.

S&T has made significant progress in keeping the nation safe from biological threats through the development of technologies, technical tools, and standards to improve the nation’s biological detection, mitigation, and response capabilities. Specifically, we have focused on deepening our understanding of the biological agents, protecting agriculture, and developing ways to conduct forensic bioattack investigations.  We have also developed programs, such as BioWatch, which provide detection and early warning of a pathogen release, and standards, which enhance the capabilities of first responders and public health professionals.

In supporting first responders, S&T is leading the development of a strategy to build a mission capability for biothreats that is consistent with the National Strategy for CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives) Standards recently published by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. We have also crafted a standard field protocol for rapid resolution of suspicious powders as well as developing training curricula for first responders.

While challenges remain, these extensive efforts by DHS and its partners have resulted in a government and citizens considerably more prepared to respond to and recover from a biological attack.
Published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C.
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