Thompson: Better security needed for events

The federal government must develop an effective national biosurveillance system and a national medical-intelligence program to counteract the risk of biological threats during mass gatherings, according to a new congressional report.

The 64-page report, issued by the staff of Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, focuses on bioterror risks affecting large gatherings of people in stadiums and at concerts. Such events are especially vulnerable to terrorist attacks using biological agents that can be distributed quickly and lead to infections and illnesses.

To protect against those threats, the report recommended:
  • Assessing disease patterns associated with mass events.
  • Establishing a national biosurveillance system.
  • Developing better biological detectors.
  • Establishing a National Medical Intelligence Program to share information among medical providers and law enforcement authorities.

Federal attempts to create a national system to track diseases have been largely unsuccessful so far, according to the report. Some such tracking is done by various programs in each state.

The current federal tracking system is BioSense, which is operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It consists of information technology networks allowing sharing of information among states and with federal authorities, and it allows for data mining to detect disease trends and patterns.

To improve the system, additional funding is needed for technologies, which must be applied in a systematic fashion, Thompson said.

"Funding from the Department of Health and Human Services and some private-sector entities has been used to upgrade the technology for existing systems and to create new systems. However, technology will have to leap over current levels to achieve the sort of national system needed," Thompson wrote in the report.

Disease tracking, data mining and information sharing have been active areas for government IT contractors. If additional funding is awarded for national biosurveillance and medical information-sharing efforts, it would most likely present an opportunity for contractors.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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