Past Event

Advance Warning Systems and Forecasting Outbreaks

April 14, 2021
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Event time is displayed in your time zone.

The History and Future of Planetary Threats

Advance Warning Systems and Forecasting Outbreaks

Wednesday April 14, 2021

12:00 - 1:30 PM ET (New York)

Register Here

The wide scale health and societal impact of COVID-19 have thrown into stark relief the lack of coordinated advance warning systems for epidemics and pandemics. This seminar will feature public health and policy experts discussing the forecasting of infectious disease outbreaks; where we stand now, and what systems will be developed in years to come. Learn what kind of data generation, systems and technologies require investment to develop advanced warning systems for better prevention and preparedness. Currently, the full force of epidemiological expertise in the United States is not being brought to bear to solve the problem. The absence of a centralized system for disease forecasting leaves too many gaps hampering the capability of infectious disease models to inform public health policy. The best way to address these vulnerabilities would be to establish a National Center for Epidemic Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics, which would handle research and development in outbreak science, develop technology for producing disease forecasts, and provide guidance for preparedness and response to outbreaks.

This seminar will be moderated by Wilmot James (ISERP Senior Research Scholar) and Alex Halliday (Director, Earth Institute).


Overview of the National Center for Epidemic Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics

Caitlin Rivers (Johns Hopkins University) and Dylan George (In-Q-Tel)

On the first full day in office, the Biden-Harris administration announced an intention to create a National Center for Epidemic Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics. Modeled after the National Weather Service, this epidemic forecasting center would help public health officials to anticipate and respond to outbreaks before they grow into epidemics or pandemics. This capability must be developed to ensure the country is never caught unprepared again. Intimately involved in its development, Dylan George and Caitlin Rivers will review the background and origins of this Center. They will outline the reasons for and implementation of epidemic forecasting and analytics, which already play a key role in decision making during biological threats but is currently done by volunteers in academia. A National Center for Epidemic Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics would professionalize this important work and ensure that federal, state and local leaders have the capabilities at hand to respond to urgent threats.

Responses from:

Improving Infectious Disease Forecast

Jeffrey Shaman (Columbia Mailman School of Public Health)

Weather forecasting in historical perspective

James Fleming (Colby College)

About the Speakers:

Dr. Caitlin Rivers is a Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her research focuses on improving public health preparedness and response, particularly by improving capabilities for “outbreak science” and infectious disease modeling to support public health decision making. Dr. Rivers participated as author or contributor in influential reports that are guiding the US response to COVID-19. In May 2020, Dr. Rivers testified in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies on the COVID-19 response.

Dr. Rivers has worked as an epidemiologist for the US Army Public Health Center as a Department of Defense Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation Scholar. She also participated in a National Science and Technology Council Pandemic Prediction and Forecasting Science and Technology working group. Dr. Rivers serves as an Associate Editor of the journal Health Security.

Dr. Rivers has been awarded the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Faculty Award for Excellence in US Public Health Practice; the Department of the Army Achievement Medal for Civilian Service; and a Department of Defense Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Research Transformation Scholarship. In 2015, she received a PhD in genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biology from Virginia Tech. Her doctoral research focused on computational epidemiology, specifically modeling emerging infectious diseases such as avian influenza A (H7N9), Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, and Ebola virus disease for public health support using nontraditional, publicly available sources of data. She also received an MPH with a concentration in infectious disease from Virginia Tech in 2013 and a BA in anthropology from the University of New Hampshire in 2011.

Dylan George, Ph.D., is a Vice President at In-Q-Tel (IQT). Dr. George supports technical evaluations of life science and healthcare deals, drives strategic science and technical vision to strengthen capacity within the United States to counter biological threats from infectious disease epidemics.

Dr. George served on the Biden Transition team supporting National Security and Foreign Policy, and the agency review team for the Department of Health and Human Services. Prior to joining IQT, Dr. George served Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), as Senior Policy Advisor for Biological Threat Defense. Among other responsibilities at OSTP, Dr. George provided technical expertise and interagency coordination supporting the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. From 2013-2014, Dr. George worked in the Department of Health and Human Services within the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority where he led a team that developed analytical approaches to assess risks from emerging infectious diseases and other mass casualty events. From 2009-2013, Dr. George worked within the Department of Defense on anticipating and assessing infectious disease risks that would impact mission readiness and force health protection. Dr. George worked at the National Science Foundation within the Divisions of Biological Infrastructure and Environmental Biology. While at NSF Dr. George supported, among other activities, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and the Ecology of Infectious Diseases program.

Dr. George received his Ph.D. from Colorado State University and focused on quantitative analytical approaches for considering how clinically severe pathogens (e.g., Yersinia pestis, rabies) persist within wildlife populations.

Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, focuses on climate, atmospheric science and hydrology, as well as biology, and studies the environmental determinants of infectious disease transmission and infectious disease forecast. For the former, Dr. Shaman investigates how hydrologic variability affects mosquito ecology and mosquito-borne disease transmission, how atmospheric conditions impact the survival, transmission and seasonality of pathogens, and, how meteorology affects human health, in general. For the latter, he is engaged in developing mathematical and statistical systems for generating forecasts of infectious disease outbreaks at a range of time scales. In addition, Dr. Shaman is studying a number of climate phenomena, including Rossby wave dynamics, atmospheric jet waveguides, the coupled South Asian monsoon-ENSO system, extratropical precipitation, and tropical cyclogenesis.

James Rodger Fleming is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Colby College, Maine. He earned a B.S. in astronomy from Pennsylvania State University, an M.S. in atmospheric science from Colorado State University, and a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University. His books include Meteorology in America (1990), Historical Perspectives on Climate Change (1998), The Callendar Effect (2007), Fixing the Sky (2010), Inventing Atmospheric Science (2016), and FIRST WOMAN: Joanne Simpson and the Tropical Atmosphere (2020). He is series editor of Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology. Jim has spent productive sabbatical years at MIT, Harvard (twice), the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Columbia University. He frequently presents keynote or invited lectures at domestic and international venues, and his opinions are sought out by major media outlets and documentary filmmakers. His engagement with public policy includes writing and reviewing for the International Panel on Climate Change, testimony to Congress, and service on two U.S. National Academy of Sciences study panels.

Register Here

ISERP Series: The History and Future of Planetary Threats

In this series, ISERP convenes meetings to examine historic and conteporary catastrophic risks and hazards, whether natural, accident or deliberate, in the following domains: geological, biological, epidemic infectious disease, environmental, chemical, extreme weather, radiological and nuclear, or combinations of these. By catastrophic we understand to mean classes of events that could lead to sudden, extraordinary, widespread disaster beyond the collective capacity of national and international organizations and the private sector to control, causing severe disruptions in normal social functioning, heavy tolls in terms of morbidity and mortality, and major economic losses; in sum, events that may well cause a change the direction of history. Nuclear falls into a class of its own, because it can result in the annihilation of life on planet earth and the end of history as we know it.

This event is co-sponsored by:

  • Center for Pandemic Research at the Institute for Social Research and Policy (ISERP)
  • Program in Vaccine Education, Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
  • Earth Institute
  • Academy of Political Science
  • Data Science Institute