DHS Launches Multiple COVID-19 Research Efforts

Published: April 01, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicResearch and DevelopmentSCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY DIRECTORATE (HOMELAND SECURITY)

DHS coronavirus research programs focus on understanding and containing as well as aligning hazard awareness and characterization activities.

Key Takeaways

  • DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and affiliated research centers are focusing new efforts to address coronavirus challenges related to public health, emergency response and operational continuity, joining numerous other federal labs in COVID-19 research efforts.
  • Research efforts are broad – from advancing biological characterization and risk modeling to developing decision-support and knowledge management tools.
  • New capabilities and knowledge bases will need to be integrated into the larger homeland security chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) hazard awareness and response capacity.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) recently announced that it has initiated multiple research efforts to help scientists better understand the coronavirus and aid in the federal response.

First, in cooperation with the DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, coronavirus research will be done at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) laboratory to address questions about the virus’s survivability on surfaces, its transmission and methods for disinfecting surfaces. Research will study the impact of various conditions, such as temperature and humidity, to determine the virus’s survivability in the air, in respiratory fluids and on various surfaces. A disinfectant study will examine the most effective materials to clean surfaces to rid them of the virus.

Second, S&T established COVID-19-related research at the Probabilistic Analysis for National Threats Hazards and Risks (PANTHR) program, which serves to strengthen homeland security stakeholders “by aligning chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) hazard awareness and characterization activities to provide timely, accurate, and defensible decision support tools and knowledge to stakeholders.”

Working closely with the NBACC and the Chemical Security Analysis Center, PANTHR will focus on providing coronavirus response decision makers and front-line operators with key technical information on CBRN hazards to “enable better informed decisions to prevent, prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from a weapon of mass destruction event.” PANTHR is working in parallel the address questions about the hazards posed by packages and cargo by characterizing the virus’s survivability on surfaces, the potential for new infections from contaminated surfaces, and the effectiveness of various disinfection technologies to clean surfaces to prevent further transmission. The program will maintain a Master Question List that summarizes open source information on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on homeland security operations.

The PANTHR program’s three strategic goals – risk analysis, characterization and knowledge management – are driving efforts to develop and advance new and emerging capabilities, such as:

  • Modeling and risk analysis capabilities to support hazard risk assessments and decision support tools. One priority example is the Tools for Integrated Evaluation of Risk (TIGER) project to develop advanced risk modeling tools.
  • Characterizing traditional and emerging chemical and biological threat agents and developing advanced analytic methods. This includes expanding the Biological Threat Characterization (BTC) project to address advances in biotechnology. Addition plans include initiating research to fill gaps in chemical hazard data that are critical to the Chemical Threat Characterization (CTC) project.
  • Building knowledge management capabilities to archive, access and communicate chemical and biological hazard information through the Hazard Knowledge Center (HKC) project to leverage existing infrastructure and further expand KM efforts.

DHS S&T, NBACC and PANTHR join numerous other federally supported research labs working to address the COVID-19 pandemic. It is early in the efforts, so we have yet to see much in the way of any public contract award data that may result from any research support contracts or other procurements that may be made in support of these efforts.