Biothreats called one of the top challenges to national security

Countering and preparing for biothreats may be one of the top security challenges to face the United States in the next decade and will require better surveillance and situational awareness.

Steve Bennett, the director of the National Biosurveillance Integration Center of the Department of Homeland Security, said that while prediction of biothreats is a goal, the medical community does not have adequate prediction models available to analyze data, National Defense Magazine reports.

"Prediction is a pretty difficult thing to achieve," Bennett said, according to National Defense Magazine. "Real-time situational awareness, I think we can get close."

The NBIC was established in 2007 in an effort to bring together 12 federal agencies that track diseases and other biological events. The issue is that the databases for tracking biothreats either don't exist, aren't compatible or lack structure.

"Right now the sum of biosurveillance is based on ambiguous data," C. Nicole Rosenzweig, a research biologist at the Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, said, according to National Defense Magazine. "And to go from ambiguous data to a decision is a very difficult thing to do."

In addition to a lack of compatible information technology systems to coordinate the data, policies and procedures have not yet been worked out for how the 12 agencies should work together.

"There are lot of systemic issues that we need to fix, process issues, authority issues, things that can make decisions faster," Bennett said, according to National Defense Magazine.

Jason Pargas, the special assistant to the director at the chemical and biological technologies directorate of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, said that he is optimistic the issues will be worked out in five to 10 years.

If prediction models, applied math, computing, government and people can come together, Pargas may be right, National Defense Magazine reports.