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Biosecurity and Bioterrorism Special Feature

A Decade in Biosecurity

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In the 10 years since the anthrax attacks of 2001, biosecurity has been increasingly recognized as a national and international priority, prompting new federal programs, legislation, and funding to address the threat posed by biological weapons, bioterrorism, and large-scale infectious disease outbreaks of natural origin, such as pandemic influenza. New federal efforts have, in turn, helped spur important state, local, and international efforts to improve biosecurity.

More than 2 years before the tragic events of 2001, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation had taken special cognizance of these threats and encouraged a number of policy studies and special initiatives.  In time, it was recognized as the largest philanthropy for  programs focused on strengthening biosecurity policy and practice—work that has made substantial contributions to gains in federal, state, local, and international biosecurity. For example, a decade ago, there were few systematic efforts in the realm of civilian and business preparedness; today, there is a wide range of initiatives focused on improving civilian readiness. A decade ago, there was little awareness of the possible consequences of misuse of the life sciences or the power of synthetic biology; now, there are institutions, national advisory groups, and professional meetings that address these issues. The Sloan Foundation programs were critical to these and to many other advancements in scholarship, policy, and practice in the field both in the United States and around the world.

To document and synthesize the achievements of the past decade and help chart the direction of future efforts, the Center for Biosecurity, with support from the Sloan Foundation, has assembled this series of 7 review articles as a special feature A Decade in Biosecurity. These articles, commissioned by the Center and peer reviewed, describe the current state of affairs in biosecurity policy and practice, identify remaining challenges and priorities, and articulate priorities for the field in the years ahead. The articles are authored by leaders in the field, with topics chosen to address the most critical policy issues and to offer recommendations for the future.

The articles assembled here deal with major aspects of biosecurity: the governance of life sciences research, public health preparedness, biosurveillance, the legal arena, community engagement, the need for medical countermeasures, and our overall approach to biosecurity.

We are grateful to the Sloan Foundation for supporting this effort and to the authors who have presented their research, thoughts, and expertise in what we believe is a thought-provoking issue.

Thomas V. Inglesby, MD
D. A. Hendserson, MD, MPH

The articles in this series are featured in the March 2012 edition of the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science, with open access until April 12, 2012.

A Decade in Biosecurity: Contents

By Tom Inglesby and D. A. Henderson, Coeditors-in-Chief
Journal contents

Public Health Surveillance and Infectious Disease Detection

By Stephen S. Morse
Despite improvements in the past decade, public health surveillance capabilities remain limited and fragmented, with uneven global coverage. Recent initiatives provide hope of addressing this issue, and new technological and conceptual advances could, for the first time, place capability for global surveillance within reach.
Read article | Journal contents

Preventing Biological Weapon Development Through the Governance of Life Science Research

By Gerald L. Epstein
Since before the September 11 attacks, the science and security communities in the U.S. have struggled to develop governance processes that can simultaneously minimize the risk of misuse of the life sciences, promote their beneficial applications, and protect the public trust.
Read article | Journal contents

The Evolution of Law in Biopreparedness

By James G. Hodge, Jr.
Over the past 10 years, a transformative series of legal changes have effectively (1) rebuilt components of federal, state, and local governments to improve response efforts; (2) created a new legal classification known as “public health emergencies?; and (3) overhauled existing legal norms defining the roles and responsibilities of public and private actors in emergency response efforts. Read article | Journal contents

A Decade of Countering Bioterrorism: Incremental Progress, Fundamental Failings

By Richard Danzig
This article suggests that our responses over the past decade can be sorted into 4 levels in order of increasing difficulty: we rapidly appropriated funds, augmented personnel, and mandated reorganization of agencies; we amplified ongoing efforts; we have so far had only glimmers of possibility in evolving new strategies to deal with this largely unprecedented problem; and, still to be realized, we need to overcome resistances inherent in our country’s cultural and political framework. Read article | Journal contents

Assessing a Decade of Public Health Preparedness: Progress on the Precipice?
By Elin Gursky and Gregory Bice
Balancing traditional public health roles with new preparedness responsibilities heightened public health’s visibility, but it also presented significant complexities. Currently, a rapidly diminishing public health infrastructure at the state and local levels as a result of federal budget cuts and a poor economy serve as significant barriers to sustaining these nascent federal public health preparedness efforts. Read article | Journal contents

U.S. Medical Countermeasure Development Since 2001: A Long Way Yet to Go

By Philip Russell and Gigi Kwik Gronvall
The U.S. government has taken significant steps toward developing and acquiring vaccines, drugs, and other medical countermeasures (MCMs) to protect and treat the population after a biological attack, but the efforts lack central leadership and accountability and the pace of progress has been slow. This article reviews areas of progress and summarizes the areas where improvements are needed. Read article | Journal contents

The People’s Role in U.S. National Health Security: Past, Present, and Future
By Monica Schoch-Spana
Over the past decade, assumptions have been made and unmade about what officials can expect of average people confronting a bioterrorist attack or other major health incident. The reframing of the public in national discourse from a panic-stricken mob to a band of hearty survivors is a positive development and more realistic in terms of the empirical record. Read article | Journal contents