Biosurveillance Fusion Center Faces Information Sharing Hurdles

By Joseph Straw

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) set out to apply the intelligence fusion center model to help authorities spot and track biological threats ranging from animal-borne disease to human pandemics and bioterrorism. The National Biosurveillance Integration Center’s (NBIC) establishment proved timely, as the H1N1 “swine” flu pandemic emerged just months later in Mexico and crossed into the United States.

NBIC, however, has run into the same stovepiping and turf problems encountered by nearly every other post-9-11 fusion effort, according to a review by the independent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
In addition to DHS, which manages the NBIC through its Office of Health Affairs, the NBIC claims 11 partner agencies: the departments of Health and Human Services (HHS)—which includes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—Agriculture (USDA), Commerce, Defense (DoD), Interior, Justice (including the FBI), State, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs (VA), plus the U.S. Postal Service and Environmental Protection Agency.
The NBIC has drafted memoranda of understanding (MOUs) for collaboration with only seven of those agencies: HHS, USDA, VA, and DoD, along with the Commerce, Interior, and State departments, GAO found. Meanwhile only one—USDA—staffs the NBIC full-time.
As for information, the GAO found that partner agencies are largely not sharing it with the NBIC. Roughly 98 percent of the information taken in by the NBIC is “unstructured data,” meaning primarily open-source media reports that DHS mines with software to generate intelligence about potential disease outbreaks around the world.
(To finish reading "Biosurveillance Stays Stovepiped" from the August issue of Security Management, click here.)

♦ Photo by Simon Strandgaard/Flickr


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