Challenges Remain for DHS Biosurveillance System

The Department of Homeland Security's National Biosurveillance Integration System will be critical in identifying a potential bird flu pandemic, but dealing with technology, policy and culture issues associated with the system will be challenging, Government Computer News reports.

The system will track and combine data submitted electronically by local, state and federal agencies' public health, food, animal, air and water monitoring systems.

"By integrating and fusing this large amount of available information, we can begin to develop a baseline or background against which we can recognize anomalies and changes of significance indicating potential biological events," said Kimothy Smith, DHS chief veterinarian, chief scientist and acting deputy chief medical officer. It will be a challenge for the system to be able to collect large quantities of diverse data in different formats, standardize the information and prepare it to be used with data from other sources, Smith said.

David Siegrist, interim director of the National Security Health Policy Center at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, said a national surveillance system is valuable, but the NBIS's centralized focus might not include enough local and state input to explain health data variations that DHS will receive from the CDC's BioSense system, which collects common symptoms from hospital emergency departments and pharmacies. "There could be a disconnect between whether the local public health officials think they have an outbreak and whether the centralized NBIS thinks they have an outbreak," he said.

DHS in December 2005 began testing a version of the biosurveillance system for operational capability, Government Computer News reports (Mosquera, Government Computer News, 5/22). DHS in mid-summer will award a contract for the development of the NBIS, and an initial version of the system is expected six months after the contract is awarded (iHealthBeat, 5/15).

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