Public health officials from the District of
Columbia, Maryland and the Commonwealth of Virginia
gathered recently at the
Applied Physics Laboratory to
demonstrate the utility of the National Capital Region
Disease Surveillance Network.
Concerns about the potential for a large-scale
bioterrorist attack or an outbreak of an infectious disease
have prompted a growing number of jurisdictions across the
nation to launch electronic tracking systems to quickly
detect outbreaks. By compiling data from emergency rooms,
poison control centers and other sources, disease
surveillance can serve as an early warning alarm.
The NCR network uses a system called ESSENCE —
for Electronic Surveillance System for the Early
Notification of Community-based Epidemics — that was
developed by the Lab with the Walter Reed Army Institute of
Research. ESSENCE compiles data containing health
indicators, performs analysis and provides information to
local and regional public health officials on statistical
anomalies that occur to help them identify bio-events
early. Such irregularities would include upward trends in
rashes, fevers and unexplained deaths, or a sudden surge in
over-the-counter drug sales. It is the first system to
integrate military and civilian data.
Each local and state public health jurisdiction in the
NCR network responds independently to public health alerts.
With an unprecedented collaborative network among public
health programs, the NCR disease surveillance system offers
a first line of defense in the national capital area.
The exercise at APL was designed to test the system,
using a simulated terrorist attack to observe the response
from public health authorities.
The NCR network is comprised of independent operation
centers — known as surveillance nodes — in the
District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, with a central
"regional integration node" operated by APL for performing
surveillance across jurisdictional boundaries. It operates
365 days a year, providing information to local and state
public health departments.