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This week at Kansas State University, the Department of Homeland Security payed a little visit. For those of you that haven’t heard, K-State is one of 6 finalists to potentially host the Nation’s most advanced biosecurity lab: The National Bio and Agro Defense Facility, or more commonly known as the “NBAF”.
This particular installation will be a state-of-the-art research facility whose main purpose is to study high-consequence biological threats. In particular addressing potential threats for animal agriculture and public health. More importantly, it will replace the now aging and out-dated “Plum Island” Facility, currently located off the northeastern tip of New York’s Long Island.
The initial phase of site selection began with 29 sites. Each submitted by a local consortium in response to a call to action by the Dept. of Homeland Security. The number has since been whittled down. Recently selected as one of six finalists to host this facility, Manhattan has already begun voicing its opinion.
This past Tuesday, August 28th, 2007, Kansas State University hosted the Department of Homeland Security in a “Scoping Meeting” to help inform the community and begin assessing public opinion. Dr. James V. Johnson, Science and Technology Directorate for the DHS was the focal speaker of the meeting. After presenting an overview of the mission, research objectives, and general security precautions taken with a facility such as this, the floor was opened to questions from the audience.
The span of questions was broad both in scope of topic, and by those making the inquiries. Topics ranged from Community Safety & Security Concerns, to the effect the facility would have on Manhattan’s economy and infrastructure. Questions were asked by students, residents, university faculty members, and city officials.
This scoping meeting is part of the initial phase of the DHS’s Environmental Impact Statement, a required survey for constructing the facility. An integral part of the EIS is community opinion, which again, was part of the main reason for holding the scoping meeting.
Even if citizens were unable to attend the meeting, or have overall questions concerning the NBAF, the air is still open for comment. You can visit the DHS’s website @ http://www.dhs.gov/xres/labs/editorial_0803.shtm to learn more about submitting comments or questions. They also have a plethora of materials available concerning the NBAF, the selection process, and how it will procede @ http://www.dhs.gov/nbaf
Now what makes Manhattan, KS & Kansas State University competitive for site selection? There are MULTIPLE reasons. For one, Kansas, in particular the Greater Kansas City Area is home to America’s Animal Health Corridor. From the KC Animal Health Website (www.kcanimalhealth.com) “KC area companies account for nearly 32 percent of total sales in the $15.2 billion global animal health market.” There are over 100 companies within this region dedicated to animal health studies, this is a greater concentration than almost anywhere in the world. With the NBAF’s main goal being the study of animal agriculture and public health via animal borne diseases, the proximity to this industry would be an immense resource.
Beyond that, Kansas State University is home to one of the nation’s newest BSL3 (bio-safety level 3) lab facilities. The Biosecurity Research Institute, or BRI, is nearing completion and is scheduled to begin operation in the Winter or Spring of 2008.
Along with the BRI, the resource of sharing space with a University is priceless. The NBAF would benefit from university research, just as the university would benefit from the NBAF’s. They could also share resources, influence, and top-notch faculties.
Obviously there are numerous concerns affecting the citizens within the community of Manhattan. Especially considering a BSL4 lab is typically used to study lethal infectious diseases that currently have no known vaccine. However, just like the BRI, which also handles highly lethal diseases, the NBAF will more than likely have its own waste, water, and air treatment facilities with redundant engineering, to ensure that even if something fails, there are multiple other systems to back it up. Overhearing a conversation concerning the BRI, “The air that leaves this facility is cleaner than that that enters it.”
The NBAF would also potentially provide 1200 initial jobs in construction, and 250-350 jobs once in operation. It would boost the overall economy of Manhattan, and in turn, help to provide an amazing resource in an area already committed to biosecurity research.
As stated before, in the end, the decision will depend upon the Department of Homeland Security. But for the time being, we can utilize our freedom of speech to voice our opinion.
I encourage anyone reading this blog, with an opinion on the subject, to not only comment back to me, but please also visit the DHS website and submit your questions or comments!