Expert discusses bioterror countermeasures

Dr. Alexander Garza, the assistant secretary and chief medical officer for the Office of Health Affairs, spoke before the Department of Homeland Security’s subcommittee on emergency preparedness and response on Thursday on the subject of biological attack countermeasures.

Garza spoke of several OHA initiatives that help to mitigate biological threats and are meant to prepare the nation to quickly detect and respond to biological attacks.

Garza discussed the many organizations OHA coordinates with, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the DHS Science and Technology Directorate.

Work with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate has led to an assessment of the chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear agents that might create a threat to the U.S. population. In the development of the Bioterrorism Risk Assessment, OHA provides expertise in the manner of subject matter to the DHS Science and Technology Directorate.

The OHA has also invested in the development of an advanced detection technology to significantly reduce the time between when a biothreat agent is released and the confirmation of the release using the OHA’s Biowatch program.

“Reducing the time it takes to properly detect and confirm a release is critical because earlier detection allows for earlier distribution of lifesaving MCM to effectively protect the exposed population,” Garza said.

The OHA has also contributed medical and health expertise to the planning and exercise efforts like the Anthrax Response Exercise Series exercises to increase awareness in the areas of biodetection, notification and early response protocols. Garza also said that the OHA leads the effort for the DHS to plan the provision of MCM to mission-essential personnel as part of Executive Order 13527, “Establishing Federal Capability for the Timely Provision of Medical Countermeasures Following a Biological Attack.”

Lastly, Garza said that the OHA has spearheaded an MCM strategy for the employees of DHS and oversees the purchase and storage of MCM for the DHS workforce.

“OHA manages and oversees the DHS MCM program and works to mitigate biological threats by preparing the nation to quickly detect and respond to a biological attack through early detection and rapid distribution of MCM,” Garza said. “DHS leads and strengthens our nation's collective efforts to secure our country from threats, assisting and coordinating with state and local governments and helping to ensure a resilient DHS workforce.”