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Friday, September 24th, 2021

DHS S&T announces winners of competition to design biothreat warning system

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) recently announced the winner of a biothreat competition, which called for the design of an early warning system that uses existing data sources to reveal emerging biothreats.

DHS S&T issued the $300,000 Hidden Signals Challenge in collaboration with the Office of Health Affairs National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC).

The grand prize winner, the Computational Epidemiology Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, will receive $150,000. Their proposed solution, Pandemic Pulse, integrates Twitter and Google Search data with infectious disease monitoring tools Flu Near You and HealthMap.

Pandemic Pulse filters data according to pathogen category, transmission mode and information source, using a tiered evaluation method.

“By exploring these untapped data sources we aim to improve how city-level operators make important public safety decisions,” William N. Bryan, DHS Senior Official Performing the Duties of Under Secretary for Science and Technology, said. “The grand prize winner and runner-up have strong system designs that harness streams of information in a manner that could allow us to identify an emerging problem faster.”

Daniel B. Neill and Mallory Nobles of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania submitted the runner-up solution, Pre-syndromic Surveillance, and will receive $50,000.

The system integrates emergency department chief complaints with data from health clinics and social media to uncover outbreaks that do not correspond with known illnesses. The team is piloting a working prototype with New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and other city agencies.