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Threat Environment

The 21st century health security environment is increasingly complex and dangerous; it demands that we act with urgency and undertake a singular, coordinated effort to save lives and protect Americans. The Strategy addresses this complexity by recognizing that biological threats may be naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate in origin and may impact plant, animal, and human health, the economy, and the physical environment.

​"Outbreaks of disease can cause catastrophic harm to the United States. They can cause death, sicken, and disable on a massive scale, and they can also inflict psychological trauma and economic and social disruption.”​

National Biodefense Strategy

​We have witnessed the economic and human suffering impacts of naturally occurring outbreaks such as influenza, Ebola, African swine fever, Zika virus, citrus greening, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The September 2019 Council of Economic Advisers Report estimates that seasonal influenza alone costs the United States approximately $361 billion per year and projects that an influenza pandemic could have significant impact, costing half a million lives and between $413 billion and $3.79 trillion, depending on its severity and scope.

​The acquisition or development and use of biological weapons are within the aspiration of potentially hostile state actors, terrorist groups, and lone-actors. The anthrax mailings of 2001, costing five lives and sickening 17, and an estimated $320 million in cleanup costs, are a reminder of the serious nature of this threat.1 Exposures due to laboratory accidents also present a concern. For example, a leaking pipe at a laboratory exposed nearby cattle to foot and mouth disease virus in the United Kingdom.2 Lapses in biosafety practices in U.S. federal laboratories also serve as a reminder of the importance of constant vigilance over the implementation of biosafety and biosecurity standards.

​"Biological and chemical materials and technologies—almost always dual-use—move easily in the globalized​ economy, as do personnel with the scientific expertise to design and use them for legitimate and illegitimate purposes.”

2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment

​​​Although progress has been made over the past several decades in our preparedness for a biological incident, additional work remains to ensure the public health and security o​f the American people. Biological threats, technology, and threat actors are constantly evolving, and our defenses must keep pace. The Strategy brings together departments and agencies from across the federal government, as well as SLTT, private sector partners, and international partners to better coordinate our efforts and ensure that we are prepared to meet new and emerging threats.

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