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Tools of the Trade

June 20, 2007

tools Recently, I found out about a few software programs that might be of interest to my readers. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to muddle around in them due to work pressures (not that I’d understand what I was doing anyway), but thought I should at least pass the links along to you all in case they might be useful to your efforts.

The first is an FDA effort designed to guard against agroterrorism. We’ve talked about food security issues previously, and I feel that this is something that needs to be addressed. My worry, though, is the focus on agroterrorism. Should we only be investing in new technology in order to combat an unrealized threat, or should we be spending time mitigating the risk from naturally grown food-borne illness (such as E. coli, etc.). As always, it seems like our laser-like focus is missing a lot of very critical opportunities to help.

In any case, the software is called CARVER+Shock. The original CARVER tool was developed by the US military to assess security vulnerabilities in order to address those that present the highest level of danger. CARVER stands for Criticality, Accessibility, Recuperability, Vulnerability, Effect, Recognizability. Those terms lead the assessor to rank, for example, which system is most critical, accessible, how easily recuperable, etc., etc., etc. When the FDA adapted the tool, they added the Shock parameter. Shock looks at the psychological impacts of an attack or “shock” attributes of a target (source). If a particular terrorist act would cause a relatively low level of “shock” then it would receive a correspondingly low danger score; however, something that causes a large amount of media coverage and has the potential to scare or shock a large portion of the American populace, then that would receive a correspondingly larger danger score. It certainly seems like a valuable tool, but I’d love to see it adapted and used to assess “natural” contaminations as well.

The software can be found here, and a non-classified primer can be found here. Hat tip to Homeland Security Digital Library.

The second software was developed by IBM a few years ago, but was just recently adapted and released to the public health community. Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modeler, or STEM, is a program that can help public health scientists track and forecast disease spread using multiple vector modalities (e.g. by airline route, etc.). The program has been released in an open source format, meaning that interested programmers can add features or make changes to the program should they see value to be gained. This is similar to the Google Earth program, in which Google wrote a very powerful mapping program, and then released the code that makes up that program. Programmers develop new things and uses almost daily. One very impressive effort undertaken by reporter Declan Butler, of Science Magazine Nature, is a map of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian flu spread. Examples like this show the wide range of applications that open source programs can be molded to accomplish, and to now have a program that is specifically geared towards public health preparedness with these capabilities is truly an exciting development.

The software can be found here. Of the two programs mentioned here, this is the one that I’m much more likely to muck around in. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

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