This past month, we have been grateful to speak with several community groups across the region about the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. From those discussions, we know that one of the most common concerns about the facility is safety.

For NBAF to serve the greater good of protecting our food supply, agricultural economy and public health, it also must have an internal focus on safety. NBAF’s success with safety will be attributed to a combination of three basic core areas: people, procedures and facility.

Focusing on people first, we’ve discovered NBAF employees have a common desire to serve that greater good and are naturally focused on safety and security. This shared interest is a lifelong passion for many of our employees.

For example, Bill Wilson, our new NBAF senior science advisor for the Agricultural Research Service, or ARS, has more than 30 years of biosecurity research experience and a family history deeply rooted in a “One Health” mentality. Recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants and the environment, his father, a K-State College of Veterinary Medicine graduate, worked primarily around public health issues and promoted the importance of positively contributing to society.

Dr. Wilson will serve as ARS liaison as we prepare to transfer critical science activities from Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York to NBAF here in Manhattan. He also helps develop and maintain key NBAF and PIADC partnerships between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and others to protect against animal diseases that threaten our nation.

The partnerships also will help serve the greater good through outcomes like vaccines and faster diagnostics for high-consequence animal diseases. With Dr. Wilson’s extensive experience in many biosecurity facilities, he has a great background to provide guidance and suggestions to continue to expand NBAF’s safety and security culture.

The second area contributing to our safety culture is incorporating proven processes and best practices into Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and continually updating them as new proven approaches are identified. These SOPs identify the step-by-step measures to be followed by NBAF staff in operating the facility and conducting research.

Finally, having a facility that ensures the safety of workers and the public is a third element in building NBAF’s safety culture. NBAF’s building has many safety system redundancies, which also incorporates design criteria used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for withstanding a tornado. This will allow U.S. scientists to safely study zoonotic diseases, those diseases that can transfer from animals to humans, in large livestock at the highest level of biosafety, BSL-4 — critical research that cannot be done anywhere else in the nation currently. In fact, only four other facilities in the world can conduct BSL-4 research on large livestock.

We are thankful for our partnership with DHS, which is building the facility with the highest level of technology and safety features available. As of the end of August, the DHS Science & Technology Directorate reports they’ve spent about 91% of the $1.25 billion budget and remains confident they will stay within that budget.

All three of those core areas — people, procedures and facility — are equally important in NBAF’s success, but I also must acknowledge that the community is part of the “people” core. Many of us have been members of the Manhattan and surrounding communities for more than a decade. We value what our friends and neighbors think, and we want to continue to engage with the community.

So far this year, we’ve participated in nearly 100 outreach activities — many of which have been virtual — and continue to get requests for more. We’re thrilled that so many people are interested in learning more about NBAF. Any questions, feedback and presentation requests can be emailed to nbaf@usda.gov or sent through Twitter or LinkedIn. We are grateful to be in a community that is interested in and understands the importance of protecting agriculture, farms and citizens for the greater good.

Katie Pawlosky is the communications coordinator for NBAF.

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