BioWatch Program: Detection of Bioterrorism [November 19, 2003]   [open pdf - 130KB]

"The BioWatch Program uses a series of pathogen detectors co-located with Environmental Protection Agency air quality monitors. These detectors collect airborne particles onto filters, which are subsequently transported to laboratories for analysis. It is expected that this system will provide early warning of a pathogen release, alerting authorities before victims begin to show symptoms and providing the opportunity to deliver treatments earlier, decreasing illness and death. The BioWatch Program, funded and overseen by DHS, has three main elements each coordinated by different agencies, sampling, analysis, and response. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains the sampling component, the sensors that collect airborne particles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coordinates analysis, the laboratory testing of the samples, though testing is actually carried out in state and local public health laboratories. Local jurisdictions are responsible for the public health response to positive findings. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is designated as the lead agency for the law enforcement response if a bioterrorism event is detected. The BioWatch Program has raised concerns in some quarters, with questions about its general effectiveness, the siting of pathogen detectors, the reliability of its results, its cost and workforce requirements, and the ability of public health officials to respond to BioWatch results. Efforts to develop integrated response plans, lower the system cost, and develop complementary and next-generation systems continue."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RL32152
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