Federal preparedness advisers approve disaster research recommendations

Apr 28, 2011 (CIDRAP News) – A federal advisory board meeting in Washington, DC, today approved a set of recommendations that would help mobilize the scientific response in the wake of major public health events such as the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The draft recommendations were developed by a working group of the National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB), an expert committee that advises the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on preparations for bioterrorism and other public health emergencies; they were unanimously approved, after minor tweaks, by its full board. The 37-page report will be forwarded to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Nicole Lurie, MD, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at HHS.

Stephen Cantrill, MD, an emergency department physician from Denver who chaired the working group, told NBSB members today that the recommendations are aimed at easing scientific investigations against a public health disaster backdrop, which often posts several obstacles to data collection, such as thorny issues related to institutional review board jurisdictions, privacy laws, and use of human subjects.

"After a disaster we're always playing a pick-up game in a scramble to get the science done," he said, adding that a quicker and easier research response can benefit both victims and responders.

The group said in its executive summary that scientific investigations, along with preplanning for scientific work, should be fully integrated into disaster planning and response to ensure that critical knowledge gaps are addressed in a timely way.

The working group formed and came up with the recommendations in response to a request from Lurie. In drafting the set of 10 recommendations, group members held a series of invitation-only workshops that allowed them to get frank assessments from experts in government agencies, academia, public health, and private industry on what works well and what hampers disaster-related scientific investigations.

They recommended that the HHS:

  • Convene expert planning panels to identify research questions likely to arise during an array of incident types, including those that fall under Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) planning scenarios
  • Add a scientific response component to the National Response Framework and the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan
  • Establish an ASPR center to plan and coordinate scientific investigations before, during, and after disasters.

According to the proposed recommendations, the ASPR center staff would carry out seven other recommended functions, which range from appointing a liaison to help streamline the Office of Management and Budget's Paperwork Reduction Act requirements as they pertain to scientific protocols, to establishing a funding mechanism to support the research, to identifying new information technology to collect field data.

Cantrell said the working group is sensitive to federal budget issues and that a funding mechanism could repurpose money already set aside for, for example, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) centers of excellence.

Lurie gave the group's work high marks and said she's looking forward to continuing talks and brainstorming on how to implement the recommendations. "This topic has become an extremely high priority for me, how we can advance the quality of our response in so many ways," she said. "A lot of really good thinking and hard work has gone into this."

During the board's discussion, they requested a review of the efficacy of the Paperwork Reduction Act on timely scientific response to disasters, and they included local institutional review boards in a recommendation for partnering during disaster-related scientific investigations.

See also:

Apr 28 NBSB draft report

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