About two years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture hired the first National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) employees. Now, close to 80% of NBAF’s operational workforce has been hired and several employees are even celebrating work anniversaries.
Dr. Ken Burton, NBAF coordinator, is coming up on his two-year anniversary and Dr. Alfonso Clavijo, NBAF director, will celebrate his one-year anniversary in October. The past year has flown by as I also will celebrate my one-year anniversary as NBAF communications director in November.
While those dates are important to each of us, we are more excited about NBAF’s collective accomplishments and those of our colleagues at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) in New York. Many of these accomplishments even came during this time of maximum telework.
NBAF continues to successfully onboard new employees despite the global pandemic. Even though many NBAF team members have not yet met each other in person, we are all taking advantage of this unique time before the facility is complete to tackle required training, learn from our colleagues at similar facilities, build relationships, and do everything we can to make sure we’re ready to operate the facility. Thank goodness for teleconferencing technology!
We now have well over 100 employees participating each week in a Lunch and Learn series with our PIADC colleagues featuring speakers from NBAF, PIADC, USDA, Kansas State University, and other university partners. Despite being apart, our team is staying actively engaged and learning how to make NBAF the safest animal disease laboratory in the nation.
In addition to a focus on safety, we have implemented many platforms to engage employees and develop an inclusive, mission-first community. We are proud to have a diverse workforce already with a tremendous blend of prior experiences. For example, slightly more than half of our workforce is made up of veterans who bring a unique set of skills and perspectives to the NBAF team. We have many committees focused on equal employment opportunities, civil rights, community outreach, and social and employee well-being.
Thanks to our Wellness Committee, we are raising awareness of veteran suicide through the 22 Pushup Challenge. Willing nominees record themselves doing 22 pushups or 22 of some other activity and share it with the NBAF community. The creativity has been impressive. With nearly 700 collective pushups in the first week, we’ve seen handstand pushups, a 22-minute walk, a 22-mile bike ride and much more.
As I mentioned earlier, we are beyond proud of the work and achievements coming from PIADC during this difficult time in history. Scientists there continue to make progress in the fight against the most high-consequence livestock pathogens, such as African swine fever virus, with recent advances in diagnostic testing capabilities and vaccine development. Thankfully, that virus is not present in the U.S. but with the USDA’s highly skilled animal disease scientists and key partnerships, we will be better prepared to diagnose and prevent a potential outbreak.
The technological advances that NBAF will provide will help these brilliant minds accomplish even more. We look forward to sharing more of these successes in future monthly updates here in The Mercury. In the meantime, please follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to read about accomplishments as they’re announced.
Our colleagues at Plum Island also have continued success establishing connections and preparing the next generation of researchers and animal disease diagnosticians to work at NBAF. With initiatives such as the NBAF Laboratorian Training Program, the related NBAF Scientist Training Program and many other similar USDA initiatives, we can ignite scientific advancement and give students an edge.
Lastly, as the facility gets closer to completion, we are seeing increased interest in the facility from the general public and government officials. The type of work that will be done at NBAF will not permit routine tours of the facility, but our communications team is working on ways to share more about the laboratory facility without compromising safety and security. In addition, NBAF leaders have recently given several virtual presentations to groups such as the Flint Hills Regional Council and the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor’s Animal Health Summit.