Happy July, everyone! The Independence Day holiday recently passed, and I’m sure you noticed a lot of stories about how to celebrate safely…. From keeping cold foods cold and grilling meat to the right temperature, to the dangers of fireworks, safety tends to rise to the forefront around this time of year.

The seasonal push for safety is a great reminder, but at NBAF we take safety much further. To successfully operate this world-class laboratory, we are and will continue to be focused on safety all day, every day.

Right now, we’re in the latter stages of construction, with a bit more than a year before USDA will move into the space. DHS and USDA recently signed the memorandum of agreement that formally outlines how the departments will transfer ownership and operational responsibility for the NBAF from DHS to USDA. As stated previously, DHS retains responsibility for the $1.25B construction/commissioning effort with formal transfer of NBAF occurring upon the completion of that effort in May 2021.

After that time, USDA will begin research and diagnostic activities and build up to full operation by 2023.

USDA is hard at work to ensure a continuation of the strong safety culture embedded by DHS in the planning, design, and construction of the NBAF.

Safety is a key piece of our operational planning — we are pulling together the framework now that will serve us for years to come. And there are many elements to safety. It’s essential that we take the time to get things right from the start.

In addition to planning, we’re now starting to see the NBAF team expand as more employees are hired. Recently, we added the Bio-Risk Manager to our team.

This individual will lead a team of 20 that will focus on ensuring the safe use and storage of biological agents within the laboratory space, as well as full compliance with the biological regulatory agencies. The large team indicates just how seriously NBAF takes safety and security.

The Bio-Risk team is on the leading edge of protecting our staff when they are in the facility – and also keeping things contained to protect the Manhattan community.

As we hire, we are also prioritizing safety training. Anyone hired to work at NBAF will be required to complete biosafety awareness training with regular refresher courses so they understand the research and diagnostic activities that will take place in the facility. We will provide additional training appropriate for each employee’s role at NBAF.

There will also be training required by our regulators before anyone can work with the biological agents at NBAF. We will encourage our scientists and laboratory staff to be transparent, raising any concerns they may have and noting opportunities for improvements.

We will also be using our new website — www.usda.gov/nbaf — to provide information to the community and the public about NBAF. This includes what research and diagnostics are being done and how it will protect our food supply and public health.

Another aspect of safety is emergency response. DHS has developed successful relationships with local emergency responders. As USDA operational planning activities grow and evolve, the USDA relationship with local and state emergency responders will also grow and evolve.

Our local response teams will receive NBAF tours so they can become familiar with the building and its requirements and we will work with them to develop appropriate drills and exercises. That way, we are best prepared to handle any future response needs.

We’ll continue to keep safety at the forefront of our plans and actions. USDA is committed to keeping you informed about our activities at NBAF.

We want to be good neighbors — and safe ones, too.

Ken Burton, DVM, is National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) coordinator.

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