THE MAGAZINE

The State of Bioterrorism Surveillance

By Lilly Chapa

For example, implementing electronic medical records and digital links between hospitals and public health authorities would greatly enhance management in the event of a biological attack, says the report.

Future Prospects

President Obama issued a National Strategy for Biosurveillance in July 2012 that mentioned strengthening local partnerships to improve BioWatch capabilities. However, the strategy does not include a framework to guide the systematic identification of risk, assessment of resources needed to address those risks, and the prioritization and allocation of investment across the entire enterprise, according to the GAO.

In his strategy, Obama also called for a strategic biosurveillance plan to be implemented within 120 days, but no such plan has been announced.

In August, the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked the GAO to do another report on Gen-3, which Caldwell says they plan to do. He also notes that there is no mention of Gen-3 in the 2014 budget, which means Gen-3 is in a holding pattern. However, the DHS recently extended the current BioWatch program in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Richmond with a six-month, $750,000 contract that funds the manual testing of the filters every 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Kellermann says that BioWatch is “in a league of its own,” both in stature and in number of skeptics.

“There’s so many levels of concerns about the technology and the premise that I think Congress’ skepticism and the experts’ skepticism is warranted,” Kellermann says. But he notes, “Part of what keeps programs like this alive is the concern that if we take it down and defund it, and then, God forbid, something happens in that narrow sliver of threat space, there will be hell to pay.”

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