On May 18 the National Governors association (NGA) held a roundtable meeting to examine the barriers to sharing public health information with state fusion centers and the greater homeland security community to identify best practices at the state level for facilitating the flow of that information. State and Federal participants who had direct experience and expert knowledge in public health, data fusion and intelligence, and the law attended the meeting.
Dr. Stephen Prior, our Executive Director, gave the luncheon speech in which he spoke about recent experiences in gathering, collating, analyzing and disseminating data surrounding the recent outbreak of Influenza A virus H1N1 – commonly referred to as Swine Flu.
Dr. Prior suggested that in sharing public health information we need to be cognizant of the inherent delays in data collection and analysis that generates the information that was the subject of the roundtable. In any emergent disease outbreak data is at a premium, information is scarce and frequently subject to revision as the disease state evolves. The present systems in public health are well versed in this and have at their core features that other more immediate data sources lack.
In the context of the new data sources, Prior noted that the Internet had generated new data sources, web-based applications, blogs and social networking, and, even web-based tools such as Google Flu-Tracker. All of these new sources could enhance the range of public health information but these sources lacked the features of traditional public health tools and were prone to such issues as information overload, false reports, lack of signal specificity and especially verification and validation.
Prior concluded by suggesting that the Federal government consider the funding of an ‘Epi-IMAAC’ – a public health version of the Interagency Modeling and Atmospheric Assessment Center. This would provide a single point for data collection, would be staffed by qualified experts, use a series of ‘approved’ modeling and simulation tools, and provide horizontal (across Federal agency) and vertical (Federal, state, local and tribal) integration of the information during an outbreak. This would ensure continuity in response and address some of the emergent concerns during the recent swine flu outbreak where, for example, schools closures within states and between neighboring states generated considerable debate and public anxiety.
The speech was very well received and provoked considerable discussion with the roundtable participants.
In an upcoming discussion paper NCCIA will further explore the Epi-IMAAC concept and its potential value to the public health responses by the nation.