Fusion centers adding medical expertise

Tuesday - 12/23/2008, 7:53pm EST

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
FederalNewsRadio

There are 25 fusion centers across the country where law enforcement and intelligence officials work together to analyze information, looking for potential threats. It's here where the "dots" are connected.

But the one "dot" that still needs help being connected is the public health piece.

Dr. Jon Krohmer, the acting assistant secretary for health affairs and chief medical officer in the Homeland Security Department, says to overcome this shortfall, fusion centers are adding healthcare experts to their staffs.

"The original focus was on intelligence and law enforcement, but over the last few months we are bringing in healthcare disciplines to use their resources and expertise to characterize threats," said Krohmer during a Health IT conference sponsored by AFCEA's Bethesda, Md. chapter. "Several fusion centers identified on their own that it would be helpful to have health resources in the center. We have been toying with that for the last few years. About six months ago, we started aggressive activity to bring this forward. We expect over the next coming months it will increase significantly."

Krohmer says these health care experts include doctors, nurses, disease specialists, public health epidemiologists and other disciplines.

"There is not one model that would fit," he says. "The goal is to get the public health care perspective and there are several disciplines that could fill that role."

Adding health care experts to fusion centers is just one way DHS is expanding how it is using public health in homeland security. DHS also is doing more with its biosurveillance and BioWatch programs.

Krohmer says DHS got a national biosurveillance integration center up and running in earnest in September. The center looks for public health trends and does analysis in a secure and trusted environment, he says.

The center uses information from multiple sources, including classified, unclassified and open source.

Krohmer says there are 12 federal partners, including the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Customs and Border Protection directorate, and the departments of Commerce and State.

"We want to bring folks from appropriate agencies, from the appropriation agencies physically into the center, to look at information flow on a day-to-day basis and bring their expertise and perspective in," he says. "The goal is to have a number of agencies with specific representatives in the center."

Krohmer adds that DHS will bring in state and local public health agencies into the center as well.

The BioWatch program has put sensors in 30 major cities across the country. The sensors collect air samples and DHS analyzes them for traces of chemical or biological agents.

"Currently, that takes a longer period of time than we are happy with from the time of bringing sample into filter to go through chemical analysis," he says. "We are looking aggressively for ways of speeding up and automating the process so we can get that indicator or flag in a shorter period of time."

Krohmer adds that DHS hopes to fund research and development on ways to collect and analyze environmental data more quickly. The automation issue is more about finding the appropriate technology, he adds.

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On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio - Army transforms wounded warrior care

FederalNewsRadio - Lawmakers to boost federal involvement in health IT

Homeland Security Department - Office of Health Affairs Web site

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Tags: management