Status Brief

Developmental Milestones/Developments to Date:

Current Assessment/State of the Field:




Shea, Dana, A., Lister, Sarah, A., “The BioWatch Program: Detection of BioterrorismCongressional Research Service Report No. RL 32152, November 19, 2003.

  1. “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.”



Berger, Matthew, “DHS To Award Contract To Integrate Government’s Biosurveillance,” CQ Homeland Security, May 11, 2006.

  1. “The program is expected to provide real-time information of emerging biological threats, both the result of terrorists and natural elements.  Already, the pilot program is being used to give information about the avian influenza.”
  2. “The program will integrate BioWatch, an environmental monitoring system that is used to test in major American cities.  The next version of the system…will be automated, eliminating the need for laboratories to test samples.”
  3. “It will also utilize data from BioSense, a national program to collect biological data from health care organizations across the country, and the Electronic Surveillance system for Early Notification of Community-Based Epidemics, or ESSENCE, which gathers data from U.S. military treatment facilities around the world.”

Flu, Biowatch


Mosquera, Mary, “DHS To Develop Biosurveillance System For Pandemic,” Tech News (GCN), May 12, 2006.

  1. “The Homeland Security Department expects to award a contract in mid-summer to develop the National Biosurveillance Integration System, a critical piece of the administrations strategy yo handle a pandemic, such as the avian flu.”
  2. “The biosurveillance system will aggregate and integrate information from food, agricultural, Public Health and environmental monitoring and the intelligence community from federal and state agencies and private sources to provide an early warning system for an outbreak or possible bioterrorism attack.”
  3. “The biosurveillance system will also send back to its system partner agencies completed situational awareness in real-time streams.”
  4. “Information will come from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention BioSense system, which reports Syndromic Surveillance from hospitals and pharmacies, and the BioWatch system, which monitors aerosols for biothreat agents in major metropolitan areas.”

Biosurveillance, Bioterrorism, Biowatch, Syndromic Surveillance, Flu, Pandemic, Public Health, Homeland Security


Fox, Jon, “Auditor Cites Progress Resolving Flaws in Biowatch Program,Global Security Newswire, February 8, 2007

  1. Department’s biological agent detection system in more than 30 cities has been overhauled after years of poor management
  2. launched in 2003 it tests for roughly 20 pathogens that might be released by terrorists
  3. more than 15 positives attributed to natural causes.

Biodefense, Homeland Security, Biowatch


Kouri, Jim, “Bio-Surveillance Strategy Report Released,”, Aug. 8, 2009.

  1. “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is currently developing two major initiatives to provide early detection and warning of biological threats: the National Bio-Surveillance Integration Center (NBIC), a center for integrating and coordinating information on biological events of national significance, and the BioWatch program that operates systems used to test the air for biological agents.”
  2. “DHS has made progress making NBIC fully operational as required by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, but it is unclear what operations the center will be capable of carrying out at that point.  DHS has acquired facilities and hired staff for the center but has not yet defined what capabilities the center will have in order to be considered fully operational.”
  3. “DHS has two ongoing efforts to improve the detection technology used by the BioWatch program, which deploys detectors to collect data that are then analyzed to detect the presence of specific biological agents.”
  4. “The Directorate for Science and Technology (S&T) within the DHS is developing the ‘next-generation’ of detectors for the BioWatch program.  DHS plans for this new technology to collect air samples and automatically test the samples for a broader range of biological agents than the current technology.”
  5. “While S&T is completing its work on the new detection technology, DHS is developing an interim solution, managed by the Office of Health Affairs, to enhance it’s current detection technology.  This interim solution is intended to automatically analyze air samples for the same number of biological agents currently monitored by the BioWatch program.”

Biosurveillance, Biowatch


Kman, Nicholas and Bachmann, Daniel, “Biosurveillance: A Review and UpdateAdvances in Preventative Medicine, 2012, Vol. 2012 Last checked December 6, 2012

  1. “Surveillance is recognized as the single most important public health instrument for identifying public health events of global concern, particularly infectious diseases that are emerging.”
  2. “Methods of syndromic surveillance include many clues and data points which public health personnel can use to identify patterns.”
  3. “In response to the events of 2001, new types of surveillance systems were developed to detect epidemics through population-based reporting of symptoms tracked by time and region.”
  4. “Many cities and states in the United States use syndromic surveillance, which monitors nonspecific, prediagnostic indicators for disease outbreaks in near real- time to provide an early warning of infectious disease outbreaks in their communities.”
  5. “The Emergency Department is the most common clinical source for surveillance data, though other sources of data have been proven to be useful.”
  6. “Syndromic surveillance efforts have been expanded to include outpatient monitoring also. This type of system takes advantage of the experience of ambulatory care physicians, who are also likely to be among the first to encounter patients during the prodrome of any potential bioterrorism- related illness.”
  7. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has pioneered surveillance systems for monitoring other indicators of disease beside the traditional symptom- and diagnosis-based data used for clinical and syndromic surveillance.”
  8. “One such system is the Early Aberration Reporting System (EARS). This is a free tool which has been utilized and modified in both cities (Boston, NYC, Los Angeles) and in state public health agencies (Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Mississippi). It uses nontraditional public health data sources including school absenteeism rates, over-the-counter medication sales, 911 calls, veterinary data, and ambulance run data.”
  9. “One novel epidemiologic surveillance approach has been developed by Google Inc and the CDC during the influenza season of 2007-08. This system monitored the health-seeking behavior of millions of users per day in the form of queries to online search engines.”
  10. “The advantages of this internet- based system were that illness statistics were available with a reporting lag of only one day, compared to the 7–14 day lag of CDC surveillance reports.”
  11. “Though the Google surveillance system was specifically designed to monitor for influenza-like illness, the concept is more broadly applicable to other infectious pathogens such as bioterror agents.”
  12. “Another emerging example of a web-based surveillance system is the HealthMap Project. This collaborative undertaking performs extraction, categorization, filtration, and integration of aggregated reports from multistream real-time internet surveillance data.”
  13. “Clinical laboratories have been the cornerstone of diagnosis in infectious diseases of public health importance.”
  14. “In 1999, the CDC, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) established the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) of about 120 laboratories.”
  15. “The LRN includes federal laboratories (CDC), state and local public health labs, military labs (the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID)), food testing (FDA), environmental laboratories, veterinary laboratories (United States Department of Agriculture), and international laboratories (Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia).”
  16. “There are two categories of environmental detection systems currently in existence, the remote or standoff detection of aerosol clouds and the point detection systems of the environment.”
  17. “One way that remote detec- tion systems monitor for potential biothreats from a distance is by the observation of aerosolized masses or clouds. Finding and evaluating the contents of a cloud is referred to as ‘standoff’ detection.”
  18. “On its most basic level, these detectors aim to alert military or civilian public health personnel to the presence of an approaching cloud. After the initial identification of the cloud, a more detailed assessment of the contents, such as water droplets, inert inorganic material, dead biotic particulates, or nonpathogenic microbes, is pursued.”
  19. “Point detection systems are those that sample an environmental source, attempting to detect and identify the agent.”
  20. “These systems can further be differentiated by the type and location of sample collected.”
  21. “In July of 2003, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the CDC introduced the Biowatch program[..]”
  22. “The core purpose and intent of Biowatch is to hasten the public health response to a covert bioattack. This would allow rapid distribution of medical countermeasures, like antibiotics or vaccinations, thereby saving lives”
  23. “Biowatch is not perfect. As currently operated, Biowatch filters are collected every 24 hours and delivered to local laboratories, where they are analyzed according to prescribed protocols.”
  24. “A bioterrorist incident is considered a low probability but high-cost event. The costs are high, because many agents go undetected until the onset of symptoms when treatment is less effective and more expensive.”
  25. “As of 2005, Biowatch costs per year were approximately $13,672,096.”
  26. “Most agree that this cost is justified if the probability of a bioterrorism incident remains high as the benefits of Biowatch improve.”
  27. “The Department of Homeland Security will continue to work collaboratively to conduct and oversee developmental and operational tests of Biowatch 3.”

Biosurveillance, Biowatch


Garza, Alexander, “The Truth About BioWatch: The Importance of Early Detection of a Potential Biological Attack“, Department of Homeland Security, July 12, 2012 Last checked March 21, 2013

  1. “First announced in 2003, BioWatch is the nation’s first early detection and warning capability for biological attacks.”
  2. “Recent media reports have incorrectly claimed that BioWatch is prone to ‘false positives’ or ‘false alarms’ that create confusion among local officials and first responders. These claims are unsubstantiated. To date, more than 7 million tests have been performed by dedicated public health lab officials and there has never been a false positive result.”
  3. “Out of these more than 7 million tests, BioWatch has reported 52 instances in which naturally-occurring biological pathogens were detected from environmental sources.”
  4. “For example, near the nation’s Southwest border there have been a number of instances where a bacterium that is endemic in the environment has been identified.  Thankfully, none of the instances were actual attacks. The detection of commonly occurring environmental agents is not a ‘false positive’.”
  5. “These tools alone cannot and do not declare that a biological attack has occurred. Experts must interpret the data and quickly make tough, logical decisions about the reality of the threat.”

Biowatch, Biodetection, Biosurveillance


Editors, “PositiveID Corporation Enters Into License Agreement and Teaming Agreement With The Boeing CompanyPositiveID, December 20, 2012 Last checked February 27, 2013

  1. “PositiveID Corporation (“PositiveID”) (OTCBB:PSID), an emerging growth company and developer of airborne bio-threat detection systems for America’s homeland defense industry as well as advanced technologies for rapid medical testing and diabetes management, today announced it has entered into a license agreement and a teaming agreement with The Boeing Company (“Boeing”), including a license fee to PositiveID of $2.5 million.”
  2. “The license agreement provides Boeing the exclusive license to manufacture and sell PositiveID’s M-BAND (Microfluidics-based Bioagent Networked Detector) airborne bio-threat detector for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) BioWatch Generation 3 opportunity, as well as other opportunities (government or commercial) that may arise in the North American market.”
  3. “PositiveID’s M-BAND, developed under contract for DHS Science and Technology Division, is a bioaerosol monitor with fully integrated systems with sample collection, processing and detection modules that continuously analyze air samples for the detection of bacteria, viruses, and toxins.”
  4. “A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is one of the world’s largest defense, space and security businesses specializing in innovative and capabilities-driven customer solutions, and the world’s largest and most versatile manufacturer of military aircraft.”



McCarter, Mickey, “Draft Solicitation For BioWatch Gen-3 Program Released“, HS Today, January 22, 2013 Last checked February 27, 2013

  1. “Perhaps the largest single contract competition at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2013 began Friday with the release of a draft announcement seeking support for the latest version of the BioWatch biological agent detection program.”
  2. “The draft request for quote (RFQ) stated that DHS will soon hold an industry day in Washington, DC, for contractors interested in bidding on the BioWatch Gen-3 Program.”
  3. “Consulting firm Deltek, Herndon, Va., listed BioWatch Gen-3 as the only DHS program in its top 20 federal opportunities for contractors in FY 2013. BioWatch Gen-3 represents a potential $3.1 billion value over five years.”
  4. “‘This acquisition will include acquiring autonomous biodetectors, for both indoor and outdoor use, that continuously monitor the air for agents of biological concern (24 hours per day, 365 days per year), and all necessary IT, equipment, consumables and technical support for the nation-wide deployment, operations and maintenance of this autonomous biodetection capability in support of the BioWatch Program,’ Deltek said in a summary of the program.”
  5. “Phase I contractors earned about $26 million collectively but DHS values Phase II at the significantly higher $3 billion mark.”
  6. “According to the draft BioWatch Gen-3 RFQ, DHS will seek systems engineering and technical assistance (SETA) for the procurement of autonomous detection equipment and emerging technologies for insertion into operational test and evaluations.”
  7. “‘. . . There is a need to shorten the time to detect even further, to between 2-6 hours to facilitate rapid response actions and decisions,’ the draft RFQ said.”

Biowatch, Biosurveillance, Biotechnology, Biodetection


Magnuson, Stew, “New Way to Test Airborne Pathogen Sensors Slated for BioWatch Program“, National Defense, February 2013, Last checked February 21, 2013

  1. “The test and evaluation community for the past 70 years has used one method to find out whether sensors designed to detect weaponized pathogens work as advertised.”
  2. “One can’t walk out into a field and release live anthrax spores into the air. That would obviously endanger anyone nearby.”
  3. “‘It is ethically impermissible. It’s dangerous and puts people at risk,’ said Henry Gibbons of the Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center’s biosciences division.”
  4. “The center is developing non-pathogenic Bacillus thuringiensis simulant strains that contain unique genetic “barcodes,” or tags, to monitor how spores respond or persist in the environment.”
  5. “. . . every time there is a test, scientists have to wait for the fake pathogen to decay before proceeding to the next round. Controlling for weather is also problematic. If it changes between tests it could skew the results. The center wants to introduce not only a new simulant, but one that has the genetic diversity to allow for multiple strains.”
  6. “Edgewood settled on the widely used bacillus thuringiensis. It can be bought off the shelf at garden supply stores where it is sold for organic farming to control gypsy moths.”
  7. “The technology will be applied to the Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch program, which places sniffers in various U.S. cities in order to detect the release of biological weapons, as well as the Army’s Next Generation Diagnostics System, Gibbons said.”

Biowatch, Biosurveillance, Biotechnology, Biodetection


Editors, “PositiveID Reports Issuance of Draft RFP From Dept of Homeland Security for BioWatch Generation 3“, PositiveID, February 6, 2013 Last checked February 27, 2013

  1. “PositiveID Corporation (“PositiveID” or “Company”) (OTCBB:PSID), a developer of biological detection and diagnostics solutions, today announced that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) released a draft request for proposal (“RFP”) for Stage 1 of BioWatch Generation 3, an autonomous biodetection system designed to protect the nation against biological threats.”
  2. “William J. Caragol, Chairman and CEO of PositiveID, stated, ‘We believe that PositiveID is well positioned for BioWatch Generation 3, as our M-BAND detection technology (Microfluidics-based BioAgent Autonomous Networked Detector) was the only system of its kind successfully demonstrated in the field as part of the DHS Science & Technology Directorate (“S&T”) BAND (BioAgent Autonomous Networked Detector) Program.'”
  3. “The release of the draft RFP for Stage 1 of BioWatch Generation 3 validates this belief and re-confirms the U.S. Government’s focus on protecting the nation from biological threats.”



Senate Committee. “H.R. 307, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013” February 14, 2013. CBO. Last Checked, February 25, 2013

  1. “H.R. 307 would amend the Public Health Service Act and the United States Code to authorize funding for certain activities carried out by the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Veterans Affairs (VA) that would support the readiness of the public health system to address public health and medical emergencies.”
  2. “Based on information provided by HHS and VA, CBO estimates that implementing the act would cost about $11 billion over the 2014-2018 period, assuming the appropriation of the authorized amounts. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012, included funding totaling about $2 billion in fiscal year 2012 for activities similar to those that would be authorized by H.R. 307. CBO assumes that amounts appropriated through the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013, for those activities are similar to 2012 levels.”
  3. “H.R. 307 also would change the terms for Project Bioshield contracts, which would result in a change in direct spending. Assuming H.R. 307 is enacted this spring, it would decrease direct spending by $58 million over the 2013-2018 period, but would result in no net change in direct spending over the 2013-2023 period.”
  4. “H.R. 307 contains provisions that would authorize funding for activities administered by HHS and the VA to improve the coordination of preparedness activities and to increase medical system capacity in the event of a public health emergency.”
  5. “The majority of HHS activities would be carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.”
  6. “State and Local Public Health Security. H.R. 307 would allow CDC to continue to administer cooperative agreements with state and local governments to help prepare for public health emergencies. H.R. 307 would require entities receiving funding through those cooperative agreements to include planning for pandemic influenza as part of their all-hazards public health emergency preparedness and response plan.”
  7. “The act would authorize the appropriation of $642 million for each of fiscal years 2014 through 2018 for CDC to administer those cooperative agreements. CBO estimates about $660 million was allocated to those activities for fiscal year 2012. Over the 2014-2018 period, CBO estimates that implementing this provision would cost about $2.4 billion, assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts.”
  8. “Strategic National Stockpile. The Strategic National Stockpile is a national repository of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and other equipment for the rapid delivery of medical countermeasures in response to a catastrophic health event. H.R. 307 would authorize the continuation of the Strategic National Stockpile and would authorize the appropriation of about $534 million a year for fiscal years 2014 through 2018.”
  9. “Public Health Threats. H.R. 307 would authorize funding for the Secretary to continue to expand, enhance, and improve the capacity for CDC to respond effectively to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies. H.R. 307 would also authorize funding to establish and maintain surveillance programs and networks that enhance coordinated efforts in response to outbreaks of infectious diseases and public health emergencies. The act would authorize the appropriation of $138 million a year for fiscal years 2014 through 2018.”
  10. “Project Bioshield, established for the procurement of biodefense countermeasures, was funded by an appropriation of approximately $5.6 billion for fiscal years 2004 through 2013. H.R. 307 would change the contract terms for Project Bioshield procurements from a maximum of eight years to a maximum of 10 years. As the length of new contracts for biodefense countermeasures funded through the original appropriation are extended, there would be a decrease in direct spending of $58 million for fiscal years 2013 through 2018 and no net change in direct spending over the 2013-2023 period.”

Emergency Response, CDC, WHO, Project Bioshield, Biowatch


Barnes, Diane, “Homeland Security Agency Vacillates on ‘False’ Bioweapon Warnings“, Global Security Newswire, June 20, 2013 Last checked September 28, 2013

  1. “WASHINGTON — If a proposed multibillion-dollar biological attack warning system alerted U.S. authorities to a microbe that turned out to be harmless, could the warning be considered “false?” The Obama administration still has not made up its mind, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.”
  2. “An existing biological-weapon network raised more than 50 such alarms in six years, but the Homeland Security Department has rejected use of the word “false” to describe them. Last year, a DHS official instead called the warnings “actionable results” for state and local leaders to consider in assessing the need for an emergency response.”
  3. “The parsing of words could take on crucial significance as lawmakers consider the push to acquire and deploy a third generation of detection gear for the Biowatch network. In more than 30 U.S. cities, Biowatch sensors routinely sample the air for organisms that could alert officials to the spread of a deadly disease agent.”
  4. “Technology for the system has cost more than $1 billion since 2003. Congressional auditors estimate that the new equipment would require nearly six times that amount to roll out and maintain over a decade, according to a House committee briefing document.”
  5. “Citing one source of prior warnings, Walters said the system previously could not distinguish innocuous forms of tularemia bacteria from “subtypes of these organisms that actually cause the disease.””
  6. “The government has begun using filters capable of identifying certain strains as harmless, a top official for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at a Tuesday hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.”
  7. “The “Biowatch Generation 3” sensor technology would be designed to automatically conduct routine air sampling for dangerous organisms like tularemia and anthrax. As things stand, laboratories must regularly remove and analyze filters from Biowatch sensors, producing time lags that Homeland Security officials believe could delay a response to an actual biological strike.”
  8. “House appropriators cited Generation 3 procurement delays when they moved this month to slash Biowatch funding $11.1 million below the Obama administration’s $90.6 million request for fiscal 2014.”

Biosurveillance, Biosecurity, Biodetection, Biotechnology, Biowatch