In the wake of the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, countless social gatherings and special events have been postponed or cancelled. It feels a bit like life is on hold. But the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) mission never stops and neither does the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T). I’m proud to report that nearly 90 percent of our staff is working from home. They are doing their part to slow the spread of the virus – helping prevent healthcare institutions from being overwhelmed and potentially saving lives. That’s not all S&T is doing to help fight COVID-19, though.
The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) is conducting crucial research to mitigate COVID-19. NBACC is working closely with the Probabilistic Analysis for National Threats Hazards and Risks (PANTHR) program to characterize the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research being done will help answer pressing questions about infection and transmission of the virus. Studies are being conducted to evaluate the impact of factors such as temperature and humidity to determine how long the virus can survive in the air or on surfaces. We’re studying the most effective ways to disinfect those surfaces. And as we learn more about the virus, information is being shared with the public through a regularly updated Master Question List.
In anticipation of requests for quick responses to emerging issues, the Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) Program Management Office (PMO) has established a framework to quickly place and execute task orders through a unilateral award process. This process has already been leveraged twice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – once for each of our two FFRDCs.
The Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute (HSSEDI) was asked by the DHS Chief Medical Officer to assist in the development of triggers and reverse triggers to guide state and local leadership as they strive to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Triggers are events or milestones that require state and local officials to take particular actions. For example, a certain number of reported cases of COVID-19 triggers school closings and travel restrictions. HSSEDI stepped up and helped determine these vital mitigation parameters only days after being requested to do so, thanks to the unilateral award process implemented by the FFRDC PMO.
The Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC) is assisting the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) through collaboration with its National Risk Management Center (NRMC). The NRMC works to identify and address the most significant risks to our nation’s critical infrastructure and recently received a request from CISA to gain access to HSOAC resources as part of their COVID-19 response. The FFRDC PMO streamlined process made it happen. HSOAC is currently helping researchers understand how the outbreak is affecting national critical functions that infrastructure provides and the range of mitigation options available to address these effects.
These DHS entities are all designed to address national homeland security issues through unmatched expertise, but everyone can do their part to help. It is vital that we all take preventative measures to keep our nation healthy and safe. Remember to disinfect your workspace, practice proper handwashing technique, and stay home as much as possible. The official COVID-19 government webpage has important news and useful guidance that is applicable to everyone – within our S&T family and beyond.