Preventing the Next Biological Catastrophe: A Tabletop Exercise Summary

Preventing the Next Biological Catastrophe: A Tabletop Exercise Summary

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NTI and the Munich Security Conference (MSC) convened 22 senior leaders from the public health, biotechnology, international security, and philanthropy sectors for a February 2022 tabletop exercise to identify gaps in international capabilities to prevent and respond to high-consequence biological events and develop solutions to address those gaps.

The exercise was the fourth in a series of collaborations between NTI and MSC. It was built around a fictional scenario involving an outbreak that escalates into a global pandemic and brought together senior experts to examine where the international biosecurity architecture is falling short and explore opportunities to improve capabilities to prevent catastrophic human-caused pandemics.

The NTI-MSC tabletop exercise discussions generated a wide range of valuable insights and several key findings. Most importantly, exercise participants agreed that, despite some improvements following the global response to COVID-19, the international system of pandemic prevention, detection, and response is woefully inadequate to address current and anticipated future biological threats. The world is not prepared for the next pandemic, and bold action is urgently needed to prevent the next biological catastrophe.

Fictional Scenario Summary

The exercise scenario begins with an outbreak of Akhmeta virus among cattle in the fictional country of Andoriban. Although the outbreak begins in the nation’s livestock, spillover into the human population causes a local epidemic, which eventually escalates into a global pandemic. Complications with the response, questions about the accuracy of data, and inadequate biothreat intelligence initially obscure the fact that the pandemic originated from a state-sponsored agricultural attack by Andoriban’s adversary, Manria. Manria’s ongoing cyber-interference to avoid attribution and accountability hampers the pandemic response, resulting in 2.2 billion cases of Akhmeta virus and 120 million deaths over 20 months. The exercise scenario was based on an epidemiological model developed in partnership with Gryphon Scientific.


The participants identified several key findings:

1. The current system for assessing biological events of unknown origin is inadequate.

2. The failure to coordinate national and global responses leads to devastating human and economic losses, particularly among vulnerable populations.

3. Cybersecurity risks within bioscience research infrastructure and outbreak response systems are increasing.

4. Biothreat intelligence collection and analysis capabilities are neglected.


NTI | bio independently developed recommendations to address the findings that emerged from the exercise:

1. The UN Secretary-General should establish a new Joint Assessment Mechanism to discern the source of outbreaks of unknown origin.

2. The UN should create a Response Coordination Unit to prepare for and coordinate complex responses to high-consequence biological events.

3. Governments, industry, and the scientific community should identify the highest priority cyber-biosecurity vulnerabilities and develop practical solutions.

4. National governments should invest in strong biothreat intelligence capabilities.

View the digital report and read the press release.

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