NRC panel has "high confidence" in Fort Detrick BioLab's security procedures

these issues, the committee determined that it would not be useful to propose specific revisions to the environmental impact statement given that construction of the new facilities has begun. Rather, the Army should develop new guidelines for conducting hazard assessments of biocontainment facilities. Currently there is no specific guidance for such assessments.

The committee’s confidence that appropriate measures are in place to protect Fort Detrick workers and surrounding communities was based on several factors, including that the new facilities are being constructed under standards set by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which must inspect and approve the facilities. In addition, physical security will be greater because it is an Army base; in fact, the Army has been a leader in developing cutting-edge requirements for high- and maximum-containment facilities. Also, USAMRIID has taken steps to improve safety when problems have been identified, and the new facilities will operate under even more stringent guidelines than were previously in place.

Although the Army has taken the lead in establishing a robust biosecurity program to govern access to risky pathogens, no program can stop all threats of theft or misuse of infectious agents, the committee said. The community became particularly concerned about this after the FBI accused a USAMRIID researcher of carrying out the 2001 anthrax attacks on media outlets and Congress.

More formalized training for laboratory workers on their individual and collective responsibility and accountability is needed along with increased attention to behavioral signals that may identify “at risk” personnel.

USAMRIID, Fort Detrick, and Frederick County have resources and partnerships in place to deal with emergency situations, but the committee had concerns that not enough clinicians are available with the necessary training in diagnosing and treating diseases caused by organisms studied at the fort. It recommended that specialist physicians be on hand to consult on unusual infectious diseases as well as provide continuity in communications and coordination between USAMRIID scientists and community physicians and public health personnel.

The notion that USAMRIID will not act openly when safety breaches occur contributes to a lack of trust among many in the local community, the committee said, adding that communication with the public has not been adequate to allay community concerns. A more proactive, two-way communication effort could help, especially one that promptly discloses laboratory incidents, provides fact sheets on pathogens under study, and describes safeguards.

Holding an open house when the new facility is finished or opening a visitors center should be considered, and it might be useful to include community members on the Institutional Biosafety Committee. USAMRIID should create a community advisory board as well.