Cover: Environmental Biodetection and Human Biosurveillance Research and Development for National Security

Environmental Biodetection and Human Biosurveillance Research and Development for National Security

Priorities for the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate

Published Nov 28, 2018

by Melinda Moore, Eric Landree, Alison K. Hottes, Shoshana R. Shelton


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Research Questions

  1. What is the relevant policy and practice landscape for national BD and BSV efforts?
  2. How can R&D be brought to bear to improve BD and BSV?
  3. What are important priorities for S&T's BD and BSV R&D?

Environmental biodetection (BD) and human biosurveillance (BSV) are part of the foundation of national biodefense. The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) chemical and biological defense (CBD) research and development (R&D) portfolio improves technologies and operations in both of these areas. In the context of evolving technologies, greater adversary capabilities, and unpredictable federal budgets, this report examines S&T's CBD R&D portfolio to identify priorities for future investments. The policy context includes multiple national strategies addressing biodefense, biosurveillance, health security, and national security; multiple federal agencies have missions and programming in this space. The R&D outputs of most CBD projects and most projects in illustrative inventories of non-S&T CBD R&D are not ready for deployment. S&T's CBD R&D has focused more on environmental BD than on human BSV. While S&T has supported some projects to develop tests for environmental or human samples, other federal agencies have supported more studies in this area. There is less R&D — supported by S&T or other sources — that targets system configuration or concept of operations (CONOPS). The recommendations are to (1) develop a DHS strategic plan for environmental BD and human BSV R&D; (2) prioritize environmental BD over human BSV for future DHS R&D investments, given the department's unique role in this area; (3) prioritize R&D addressing CONOPS; (4) actively monitor R&D supported by other agencies, and adapt relevant outputs to meet DHS needs; (5) shorten the timeline for real-world application by prioritizing midstage and later stage R&D over early stage research.

Key Findings

DHS role and CBD R&D

  • DHS has a unique niche for environmental BD within the federal government.
  • DHS S&T CBD R&D addresses environmental BD more than human BSV.
  • S&T supports more CBD activities related to sample testing (test development) and system configuration, and less work related to sample collection and processing or CONOPS.
  • Most S&T CBD R&D activities related to aims to serve both DHS and non-DHS customers.
  • The HSOAC team developed logic models to depict the activities, outputs, and anticipated intermediate and long-term outcomes stemming from S&T R&D in the key thematic areas encompassed by S&T; BD themes include developing tests for environmental detection, evaluating technologies and system concepts, performing research on biothreats and attribution of bioattacks, and providing resources, expertise, and facilities; BSV themes include developing tests for detection in humans, creating software prototypes and tools to aggregate, analyze, and display information and provide decision support, evaluating technologies and system concepts and conducting feasibility assessments, and engaging the public.

Non-S&T R&D related to environmental biodetection and human biosurveillance

  • Illustrative inventories of non-S&T R&D (with 152 distinct activities related to environmental BD and 282 related to human BSV) included relatively little R&D activity related to system configuration or CONOPS compared with other taxonomy categories; about one-fifth of R&D activity — for both BD and BSV — addressed security concerns.
  • Most of the non-S&T BD R&D in the inventories has been supported by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Defense, and the National Science Foundation (NSF); most BSV activity has been supported by HHS and NSF.


  • Develop a DHS strategic plan for environmental BD and human BSV R&D that is consistent with DHS's role in national biodefense.
  • Prioritize BD R&D over BSV R&D, given the department's unique federal government role in this area.
  • Prioritize R&D addressing CONOPS, given the relative lack of R&D in this area by either S&T or other agencies and the shorter-term potential for real-world application.
  • Actively monitor R&D (at all stages of maturity) supported by other agencies, and adapt relevant outputs to meet DHS needs — for example, addressing BD and BSV test development, BD aerosol applications.
  • Prioritize midstage and later stage R&D to complement or balance the current predominantly early stage research.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and conducted by the Acquisition and Development Program within the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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