Public Health Emergency - Leading a Nation Prepared
The Southern Caucasus Workshop on Public Health, Security, and Law Enforcement Partnership in Bio-Incident Pre-Planning and Response and the associated Southern Caucasus BioShield 2010 Tabletop Exercise were held in Tbilisi, Georgia, 11-12 May 2010. These events were a joint effort of the US Department of Defense (DOD), Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA); US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (HHS/ASPR); and Georgia’s Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs (MoLHSA), National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC).
The events were initiated per Georgia’ request to the United States for assistance directly related to this year’s Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) annual meetings which will discuss and promote common understanding and effective action on the provision of assistance and coordination with relevant organizations upon request by any BWC State Party in the case of alleged use of biological or toxin weapons, including improving national capabilities for disease surveillance, detection and diagnosis and public health systems.
About 80 participants were in attendance, from inter-governmental organizations (WHO, INTERPOL, NATO), US Government [DOD, HHS (ASPR and CDC), Department of Energy (Sandia National Laboratories), Department of State (US Embassy in Georgia and the Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation), and Department of Justice (FBI)], and from public health, security, or law enforcement organizations from Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Romania. Non-governmental organizations such as VERTIC (Verification Research, Training and Information Centre), Bechtel, and Global Green USA were also represented at the workshop.
The workshop and tabletop exercise aimed to:
The workshop was organized as a series of plenary presentations (“academics”) followed by a tabletop exercise focused on bioterrorism prevention, deterrence, and response. The plenary presentations addressed:
No single community can prepare fully nor respond completely, to a large-scale biological incident and whole-of-government and community partnership are necessary for timely and effective preparedness and response at the national level. This was the main message of Dr. Dana Perkins, Senior Science Advisor, HHS/ASPR, when presenting the Whole-of-Government Approach to Consequence Management of Biological Incidents and Hazards, providing a brief overview of the US National Response Framework (NRF), the role and responsibility of HHS as the lead Federal agency for providing public health and medical services under the Emergency Support Function # 8 (ESF#8), and the roles of other agencies as described in the Biological Incident Annex of the NRF (e.g. public health reporting instances of disease that raise the “index of suspicion” of terrorist or criminal activities to the FBI as a segue to the next topic of the day).
The joint CDC/FBI presentation on Pursuing a Joint Strategy: Public Health-Law Enforcement was a team effort of Dr. Konrad Hayashi, Chief, Epidemiology, Surveillance and Response Branch, Division of Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response, CDC, and Supervisory Special Agent Kristine Beardsley, FBI, WMD Directorate. They defined the goals of public health and law enforcement during an event, discussed the key elements for planning, prevention and response, and described approaches for information sharing during an event. The speakers highlighted the benefits of working in partnership and the critical elements for achieving common goals (i.e. protecting the public, preventing/stopping the disease, identifying those responsible for the threat/attack, protecting own personnel during response/investigation), such as securing dangerous pathogens, establishing information sharing protocols and procedures (related to threat assessment, investigations, and interviews), and conducting joint training.
While various workshops were held in the past for joint training of public health, security, and law enforcement communities, this event was a first at the international level by successfully linking the international RESPONSE to a bioterrorism incident stemming from the convergence of criminal and terrorist networks, with PREVENTION via nonproliferation mechanisms such as:
These events also constitute a significant landmark for ASPR’s international activities in building coalitions and improving international partnerships among public health, security, and law enforcement to improve regional and global partnerships in preparedness and response to biological incidents, whether natural, accidental, or deliberate in nature.
The workshop and associated tabletop exercise were highly praised by those in attendance and stimulated additional requests for follow-on training events and inter-organizational engagement to improve inter-sectoral and international cooperation, coordination, and partnership to prepare for, and respond to biological threats.View the Southern Caucus BioShield 2010 After-Action Report.
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