Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2013 Vol. 60 No. 8

Texas Tri-City Biowatch Exercise


On July 16 – 18, TDEM participated in the Texas Tri-City BioWatch Exercise. The exercise was a combination of both operations-based and discussion-based elements conducted simultaneously in three Texas BioWatch jurisdictions for the first two days. The activities in each jurisdiction focused on local response capabilities and issues. On the third day of the exercise, the Texas BioWatch cities and key state agencies joined the tabletop discussion and hot wash to work on region- and state-level coordination and risk communications associated with a BioWatch event.

The scenario of the exercise involved a domestic terrorist threat and a pathogen or infectious agent. This was the third and the most complex BioWatch exercise to date since the inception of the program. A national multi-BAR (BioWatch Actionable Result) exercise was held in June 2011 followed by another Tri-City exercise in July 2012.

BioWatch is a federally-managed, locally-operated, nationwide bio-surveillance system designed to detect the intentional release of select aerosolized biological agents. The program operates in selected high-threat metropolitan areas across the country and is used to support National Special Security Events.


The program protects millions of people by focusing on early detection of a biological attack. Early detection is critical to the successful treatment of affected populations and provides public health decision makers more time—and thereby more options—in responding to, mitigating, and recovering from a bioterrorist event. BioWatch may also help provide forensic evidence on the source and nature of such an attack, which is critical to law enforcement investigations.

Partnership in Preparedness
The BioWatch has initiated and developed collaborative relationships with state and local public health, law enforcement, and environmental health agencies, strengthening our nation’s overall biodefense preparedness.

A number of key partners play pivotal roles to ensure the program’s success, including:

  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which provides funding and management for the program
  • City, county, and state governments who locally own and operate BioWatch
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which acts as a liaison with state and local public health departments
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which performs or assists in sampling activities
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is the lead law enforcement and investigative agency

The objectives for the exercise were:

Day One:

  • Assess the ability of the BioWatch Advisory Committees (BACs) to effectively establish and maintain multiagency and multi-jurisdictional communication and coordination in response to a BioWatch event resulting from an intentional bioterrorism agent release.
  • Exercise the local decision-making process among public information officers (PIOs) and health officers working within the joint information system and developing and coordinating messages. Identify key actions to be taken, talking points, who takes the lead, and who supports.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the pre-deployment meetings for field operations personnel. Review hazard communication, sampling procedures, personnel safety and personal protective equipment (PPE) and decontamination considerations.

Day Two:

  • Assess the ability to prepare chain-of-custody paperwork appropriately
  • Discuss advanced planning considerations for the follow-up response

Day Three

  • Discuss information exchange and the need for collaboration among PIOs and health officials for proactive risk communications following an event

VIPs who attended the exercise included Dr. Michael V. Walter, BioWatch Program Manager; Karen House, JPM Guardian; and Major Daniel Sweeney, United States Northern Command. Additionally, Dr. Walter; Lieutenant Colonel Shepard Gibson, United States Northern Command; Dr. David Lakey, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services; and Nim Kidd, TDEM Chief.

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