Thompson: Disease reporting systems inadequate

The nation’s information-sharing systems that aim to provide early warnings of a pandemic flu or biomedical attack are inadequate, according to a new report from the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

While public and private entities have created computer-based disease-reporting systems, the systems are too limited in scope, not compatible, and unable to communicate easily with one another, states the Jan. 14 report from Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and from Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), the chair of the Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology Subcommittee.

“It is possible that the next influenza pandemic will result in hundreds of thousands to millions of deaths – even here in the U.S.,” Thompson said. “Yet despite the horrific consequences, we still are not prepared as a nation to fully withstand the impact of such a devastating widespread biological event.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have set up the BioSense and BioPHusion public health surveillance programs to track outbreaks and emerging diseases. The data is supposed to be funneled to the Homeland Security Department’s National Biosurveillance Integration Center.

The national biosurveillance center “has met with limited success due to the inability of the DHS Office of Health Affairs to manage the system and center properly, and the lack of data coming into the center from the 12 agencies that were envisioned by Congress to provide the data,” the report stated.

The health affairs office also faces challenges of limited funding and a constrained mission, the report said.

The report identifies 16 weaknesses in the disease reporting, preparedness and response for pandemic flu and recommends 15 improvements.

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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