A Spreading Plague: Lessons and Recommendations for Responding to a Deliberate Biological Event

This NTI Paper, A Spreading Plague: Lessons and Recommendations for Responding to a Deliberate Biological Event, by Elizabeth Cameron (NTI), Rebecca Katz (Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security), Jeremy Konyndyk (Center for Global Development), and Michelle Nalabandian (NTI) presents key findings and recommendations for urgent improvements to avoid catastrophic consequences of deliberate and other high-consequence biological events.

The risks of a global catastrophic biological event are growing, intensified by an increasingly interconnected world, terrorist and state interest in weapons of mass destruction, global political instability, and rapid advances in biotechnology. International leaders and organizations today are unprepared to react with the kind of effective, coordinated response needed to investigate and identify the pathogen, prevent the spread of disease, and, most importantly, save lives. Without the right procedures and tools in place, there’s little doubt that a rapidly spreading high-consequence biological event would place overwhelming stress on the people and institutions responsible for response. The lack of established procedures would very likely undermine the trust and cooperation needed between the health professionals, humanitarian responders, and security officials who would be aiming for a coordinated, effective international response.

To address this preparedness deficit, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security, and the Center for Global Development convened senior health, humanitarian, security, and political leaders to participate in a tabletop exercise designed to explore command, control, and coordination of an international response to an unusual and rapidly spreading biological event that began in the fictional country of “Vestia.” The dramatic exercise uncovered major gaps in international coordination, information sharing, and attribution between health and security officials. It sparked disagreements among leading experts over whether a permanent United Nations-based coordinator is needed to facilitate coordination among the various entities responsible for pandemic response. And it uncovered divisions over committing attention and resources to finding the perpetrators as a way to deter future attacks.

This report presents key findings from the tabletop exercise and offers recommendations from the event organizers, shaped around five emergent themes:

  • International Coordination
  • Information Sharing
  • Investigation and Attribution
  • Financing for Response and Preparedness

The report’s recommendations were informed by the discussion during the tabletop exercise but should not be attributed to the event participants.

Click here to learn more about the tabletop exercise.

June 13, 2019
About

A new NTI Paper presents key findings and recommendations informed by a tabletop exercise with senior leaders in the security, public health, humanitarian, and political sectors. It advocates for urgent improvements to avoid catastrophic consequences of deliberate and other high-consequence biological events.

Authors
Elizabeth Cameron, PhD
Elizabeth Cameron, PhD

Vice President, Global Biological Policy and Programs

Rebecca Katz, MPH

Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security

Jeremy Konyndyk, MSFS
Jeremy Konyndyk, MSFS

Senior Policy Fellow, Center for Global Development, former Director of the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance

Michelle Nalabandian, MFS
Michelle Nalabandian, MFS

Program Officer, Global Biological Policy and Programs