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Standards to Support Biological Detection in the Field


Obtaining high confidence field detection, identification, and quantification of microbial samples remains a challenge. Since 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks in 2001, suspicious white powder incidents occur almost daily within the US with > 40,000 incidents requiring Federal law enforcement response. Suspect samples are sent to public health laboratories for confirmatory evaluation, which can take hours to weeks to receive results required to inform the response efforts. A rapid assessment of suspect samples is clearly needed to enable critical on-site decision-making (e.g., should the subway station be evacuated or should shelter-in-place be implemented). Nationwide response protocols vary in technology and resources deployed, and results from any deployed technology can have inconsistent quality due in part to the absence of third-party validation. These issues contribute to a lack of confidence in results from fielded biodetection technologies and limit the routine use of field screening to support decision-making.


NIST is working in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) to develop methods, guidance, standards, and reference materials to support and improve our Nation's ability to detect and respond to suspected biothreat incidents.

Specific activities include development of

Overall, these projects contribute to the development of a larger infrastructure to increase confidence in fielded biothreat detection and biosurveillance. Moving forward, these efforts will be leveraged in the development of reference materials with greater complexity (e.g., more than one species) to serve as a microbial background and challenge material for emerging detection platforms, and the documentary standards to support their use.

Created May 10, 2016, Updated January 31, 2020