NBIC Biofeeds: A Digital Tool for Open Source Biosurveillance across Federal Agencies

How to Cite

Baker, H., Lesniak, C., Iarocci, E., Calapristi, G., Hart, M., Dowson, S., Charles-Smith, L., Huang, Y., & Quitugua, T. (2017). NBIC Biofeeds: A Digital Tool for Open Source Biosurveillance across Federal Agencies. Online Journal of Public Health Informatics, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.5210/ojphi.v9i1.7642


The National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC) is
developing a scalable, flexible open source data collection, analysis,
and dissemination tool to support biosurveillance operations by
the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its federal
interagency partners.
The NBIC integrates, analyzes, and distributes key information
about health and disease events to help ensure the nation’s responses
are well-informed, save lives, and minimize economic impact. NBIC
serves as a bridge between Federal, State, Local, Territorial, and
Tribal entities to conduct biosurveillance across human, animal, plant,
and environmental domains. The integration of information enables
early warning and shared situational awareness of biological events
to inform critical decisions directing response and recovery efforts.
To meet its mission objectives, NBIC utilizes a variety of data
sets, including open source information, to provide comprehensive
coverage of biological events occurring across the globe. NBIC
Biofeeds is a digital tool designed to improve the efficiency of
reviewing and analyzing large volumes of open source reporting
by biosurveillance analysts on a daily basis; moreover, the system
provides a mechanism to disseminate tailored feeds allowing NBIC to
better meet the specific information needs of individual, interagency
partners. The tool is currently under development by the Department
of Energy (DOE), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)
and it is in a testing and evaluation phase supported by NBIC
biosurveillance subject matter experts. Integration with the Defense
Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), Biosurveillance Ecosystem
(BSVE) is also underway. NBIC Biofeeds Version 1 is expected to
be fully operational in Fiscal Year 2017.
The PNNL is applying agile methodology to streamline the build
of NBIC Biofeeds to specifications required for operational use by
NBIC and its federal interagency partners. Biosurveillance, analytics,
and system engineering subject matter experts provide guidance on
the implementation of features in the tool to ensure functionality
aligns with operational workflows and production support. PNNL is
leveraging software from a previous government effort to repurpose
the technology to meet NBIC needs. NBIC Biofeeds incorporates
the open source, document-orientated MongoDB database to capture
user- and system-generated metadata on hundreds of thousands
of records, in part, to establish baselines to aid prospective and
retrospective analysis on emerging biological events. NBIC Biofeeds
integrates a biosurveillance taxonomy (uniquely developed by NBIC),
which includes input from interagency partners to recognize critical
characteristics of a biological event. In NBIC Biofeeds Version
1, metadata capture of reported events is done manually by NBIC
analysts; however, moving forward in Version 2, the tool will be
further automated to flag significant reporting on biological events
with a human remaining in the loop to confirm the validity of the
system-generated tags.
To serve as a one-stop tool for open source biosurveillance,
NBIC Biofeeds automatically harvests information from thousands
of websites, utilizing third party aggregators, paid subscriptions to
data feeds, and scraping of high priority sources. Users can develop
desired queries for automatic updating, leverage a unique review
and curation mechanism, and further analyze data from topical,
geographic, and temporal visualization features in the tool. To meet
NBIC’s information sharing needs, the tool allows for design of
tailored RSS feeds and electronic message-based delivery of analysis
on biological events, intended for recipients in the government with
unique missions around human, animal, plant, and environmental
Through current testing and evaluation – underway by
biosurveillance subject matter experts – NBIC Biofeeds is
demonstrating value in supporting open source biosurveillance
by the Center for more rapid recognition and sharing of key event
characteristics. Centralizing access and analysis of this dataset
into a single system is increasing the efficiency of daily, global
biosurveillance, while enhancing the value of information identified
through use of the querying, curation, and production support features
in the tool.
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