Biodefense board takes on situational awareness, SNS tasks

Jun 26, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – The National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB) during its meeting today took on two new tasks: to help guide federal efforts to improve situational awareness for potential public health emergencies and to help work out a strategy for improving and modernizing the management of the government's Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).

The requests came from Nicole Lurie, MD, MPH, assistant secretary for preparedness and response (ASPR) at the Department of Health and Human Services. The NBSB is a 13-member group that advises the HHS on issues such as research on medications, vaccines, and supplies for public health emergencies like pandemics and bioterror attacks.

In a letter to the board, Lurie said HHS has started developing a Public Health and Healthcare Situational Awareness Strategy and Implementation Plan, intended to provide a more comprehensive national strategy. The plan is part of proposed legislation to reauthorize the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act.

Speaking to the NBSB today, Lurie said the group's input will help develop a common national approach to building situational awareness capabilities, which include gathering information about events as well as signals from biosurveillance activities.

She added that her two requests—helping coordinate situational awareness strategies and modernizing SNS management—go hand in hand. "Having early situational awareness doesn't help unless you can do something about it and something with it," Lurie said.

The nation has good systems in place, but what's needed is a way to leverage and coordinate efforts and, in some instances, reduce duplication, she said.

Several government plans have touched on the need for enhanced situational awareness and biosurveillance, including two different presidential directives. Laws passed in the wake of 9/11 Commission findings ordered the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on biosurveillance at all levels, and in October 2011, it reported its third set of findings on the topic to Congress. In that report, the GAO said many biosurveillance resources exist at the state and local level, and the federal government lacks a comprehensive view of the role it plays in the process.

Michael Latham, senior public health analyst and policy and communications lead for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's biosurveillance activities, told the group that several efforts are underway in the wake of policy directives and GAO input. "The pieces are out there and are being pulled together. The challenge is how to do that more effectively," he said.

Regarding the SNS request, Lurie asked the NBSB to form a joint work group with members of the Board of Scientific Counselors for the CDC's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response to help ASPR gauge what the responsibilities of the SNS will be in the year 2020, recommend approaches for meeting the responsibilities efficiently, and propose new ways to measure SNS capabilities and improvements.

She said she hoped the joint working group could deliver its recommendations within the next 7 to 10 months.

The board heard background presentations from federal health officials relating to both requests, and though several members and ex-officio members had questions, there were hardly any public comments during the meeting.

John Parker, MD, retired Army major general who serves as the NBSB's chairman, said, "The two issues are critical issues, and the board is anxious to get started."

See also:

Jun 26 NBSB meeting materials

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