The National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska (NU) with NU campuses hosted David Richardson, assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMD), 17 and 18 December 2020.
Richardson and his team are preparing for a February 2021 interagency exercise that will test responses to naturally occurring and malicious incidents within the CWMD health security and agricultural security mission areas.
Richardson, along with Deputy Assistant Secretary John Waters, toured several NU facilities and met with 20 researchers to gain insights to improve and refine the exercise.
“CWMD is the foundation of NSRI, and we are always proud to connect the capabilities, expertise and facilities of the University of Nebraska with the needs of a government agency whose mission is our national security,” said Maj. Gen. USAF (Ret.) Rick Evans, NSRI deputy executive director. “We definitely succeeded in demonstrating to Asst. Sec. Richardson the scope of knowledge, niche expertise and long experience NU and NSRI have within several of the department’s CWMD essential tasks."
UNMC Chancellor Jeff Gold, M.D., kicked off the visit with Chris Kratochvil, M.D., co-director of the Global Center of Health Security; Ken Bayles, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for basic research; and Shelly Schwedhelm, MSN, RN, executive director of emergency preparedness. They discussed operational partnerships in health security and preparedness for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emerging threats.
Ben Stobbe, RN, MBA, assistant vice chancellor for clinical simulation, then led a tour of iEXCEL to showcase UNMC’s capacity for advanced simulation development and training.
“I’ve used simulation in my military career, but it was interesting to see just how advanced the simulation can be used to educate medical professionals — to practice saving lives,” Richardson said. “The University of Nebraska Medical Center has some of the highest tech in this space that I have seen.”
Steve Hinrichs, M.D., medical director of the Nebraska State Public Health Lab, led the group through the Nebraska State Health Laboratory to demonstrate capabilities for biosurveillance, detection and identification of emerging threats.
Joshua Santarpia, Ph.D., NSRI research director of CWMD programs and UNMC associate professor of pathology and microbiology, discussed his leading work in aerosol and surface sampling for SARS-CoV-2 threat characterization.
Lt. Col. Elizabeth Schnaubelt, M.D., shared the mission and objectives of the recently established Air Force Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills (C-STARS) at UNMC.
A visit to the University of Nebraska at Omaha featured a discussion with Gina Ligon, Ph.D., director of the National Counterterrorism, Innovation, Technology & Education (NCITE) Center, a DHS Center of Excellence.
At UNL, the discussions focused on the security and safety of the U.S. food system. The tour included meeting with more than a dozen researchers and visiting the following facilities:
Extended coverage of the UNL visit is available via the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and a Lincoln Journal Star article published 29 December 2020.
“Today — this — this is where it is at,” Richardson said regarding the UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources facilities. “The caliber of expertise Nebraska has here is something I definitely want to tap into for our upcoming exercise. We have to be prepared in this space of ag, vet and food. We have to know what is a realistic way to prepare ourselves and that our responders are really ready. The people here can help us do that.”