Today, President Biden signed National Security Memorandum-15 (NSM-15), Countering Biological Threats, Enhancing Pandemic Preparedness, and Achieving Global Health Security, launching the new National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Components play key roles in securing the Nation through their biodefense efforts to collect and analyze threat data, conduct risk analysis, and enhance and implement capabilities to prevent, detect, prepare for, and respond to biological incidents.
Bolstering Biosurveillance and Biodefense Early Warning Capabilities. The new Strategy seeks to advance research and innovation for early warning, monitoring, and rapid analysis of biological threats and incidents. The DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMD) supports this initiative through programs like BioWatch, the National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC), and related research and development efforts. These flagship DHS biodefense programs provide warning of biological attacks or incidents with the goal of enabling a rapid response to save lives. Through technology development, analysis, and refinement of operational procedures, CWMD and the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) are advancing DHS environmental biodetection efforts to reduce the timeline to detection and ensure we can detect a broader set of evolving biothreats. Simultaneously, NBIC continues to improve biosurveillance information sharing among all levels of government to ensure threat information is rapidly and securely shared with first responders and others that need it. DHS-supported technologies and innovations will be integrated into state and local programs to bolster biodefense across the United States.
Enhancing Biological Threat Characterization. The new Strategy calls for enhanced capabilities to characterize biological threats. S&T invests in research to fill critical knowledge gaps in our understanding of the physical, chemical, and physiological characteristics of biological threats and the technologies needed to characterize them. S&T supports research on traditional, new, and emerging biological threat agents, and includes developing methods to analyze fundamental properties of hazardous biological agents and materials. The results of this work are shared with the U.S. biodefense community and support operational planning and response to disease outbreaks, like understanding ways to disinfect personal protective equipment during COVID-19.
Assessing Biological Risks. The new Strategy improves biological risk assessment efforts. DHS, through the joint efforts of CWMD and S&T, lead efforts to evaluate and analyze biological hazards and risks, and provide federal, state, and local partners with data-driven decision support. Information generated by DHS’s advanced modeling tools can help decision-makers at all levels of government understand the breadth and relative urgency of biological hazards, and most effectively plan and prioritize resource investments against them. DHS continues to increase the accuracy and applicability of these risk assessments, and is expanding to new emerging targets and threats, such as threats to U.S. food and agriculture.
Reducing Pathogen Spillover. The new Strategy seeks to understand the drivers of risk for zoonotic spillover and to develop mitigation strategies to address them. The DHS Office of Health Security (OHS) coordinates the Department’s human and ecological health activities, including food, agriculture, and animal health security efforts. OHS is working with S&T and federal partners who collaborate with critical infrastructure sectors to assess the current and future risk landscape in order to develop threat-driven, risk-informed, and science-based measures to better minimize those biological threats. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is postured to identify and respond to emerging zoonotic and agricultural threats through rapid and responsive changes to inspections of products and materials at U.S. ports of entry.
Rapidly Responding to Bioincidents. The new Strategy expands on the lessons learned from responding to COVID-19 and seeks to strengthen capabilities to mitigate a bioincident through prompt activation of established response mechanisms. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is leading the effort to update existing operational biological response plans, such as the Biological Incident Annex (BIA) to the Federal Interagency Operational Plan for Response and Recovery. Updated plans will enable improvements to the coordination of the U.S. Government response, applying the same lessons from recent events that went into the Strategy. The updated BIA will provide states and localities a reference to conduct their own planning, ensuring a coordinated, whole-of-government response to future biological incidents.