Past Event

Biological risks and hazards in the world today with special focus on Russia and Ukraine

May 4, 2022
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
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Biological risks, whether of natural, accidental, or deliberate origin, threaten safety and security across the world and continue to evolve, especially amid the rapid pace of scientific and technological innovation. It is within this context that the panel will discuss the health security environment in the post-Soviet states, as assessed by the Global Health Security Index of 2019 and 2021, and the biological risks posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and associated disinformation campaign.

In this webinar, Jessica Bell and Hayley Severance, of the Nuclear Threat Initiative will discuss health security environment across the post-Soviet states. Next we will hear from Gregory Koblentz of George Mason University on the evolving biosecurity landscape today. Then Hon. Andrew Weber of the Council on Strategic Risks and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Obama Administration will discuss what we know and what we don’t know about the Russian Federation’s biological and chemical weapons’ program. Finally, we will hear comments from Rebecca Katz of Georgetown University and Ian Lipkin of Columbia University, and wrap up with a panel discussion of audience questions. The webinar will be moderated by Wilmot James.

This event is hosted by Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy.

About the Speakers:

Jessica A. Bell joined NTI as a senior program officer for global biological policy and programs in February 2019. In this role, she works on projects to strengthen global health security, primarily NTI’s Global Health Security Index.

Prior to joining NTI, Ms. Bell served as a senior advisor to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, where she helped to shape CTR’s strategic messaging, engage key stakeholders across the nuclear, chemical, and biological threat reduction communities, and coordinate congressional and departmental requirements. She also served in a leadership role supporting the Biological Threat Reduction Program, where she assisted in the development of programmatic guidance, threat reduction metrics, and requirements documentation while also managing a large team of global health specialists.

Hayley Anne Severance is the deputy vice president for NTI’s Global Biological Policy and Programs team (NTI | bio). In that role, she supports and leads the team’s efforts to reduce biological risks that imperil humanity.

Severance joined NTI as senior program officer for NTI | bio in May 2018 and served most recently as senior director. Severance previously served as a senior policy advisor in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, where she developed strategic policy guidance for the Cooperative Threat Reduction’s Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP) and led the Department’s efforts to advance the U.S. commitment under the Global Health Security Agenda.

From 2012-2014, Severance served as the epidemiology subject matter expert for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency CBEP.  In this role, she assessed international biological event surveillance, detection, and response systems and developed implementation strategies to meet CBEP programmatic goals in biosafety and biosecurity, cooperative biological research, and surveillance.

Gregory D. Koblentz is an Associate Professor and Director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government. Dr. Koblentz is also a member of the Scientist Working Group on Biological and Chemical Security at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, DC. His research and teaching focus on understanding the causes and consequences of the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons to state and non-state actors and the impact of emerging technologies on international security. He received a PhD in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Honorable Andrew C. “Andy” Weber is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Strategic Risks’ Janne E. Nolan Center on Strategic Weapons. Mr. Weber has dedicated his professional life to countering nuclear, chemical, and biological threats and to strengthening global health security. Mr. Weber’s decades of U.S. government service included five-and-a-half years as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs. He was a driving force behind Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction efforts to remove weapons-grade uranium from Kazakhstan and Georgia and nuclear-capable MiG-29 aircraft from Moldova, to reduce biological weapons threats, and to destroy Libyan and Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles. In addition, he coordinated U.S. leadership of the international Ebola response for the Department of State.

Prior to joining the Pentagon as Advisor for Threat Reduction Policy in December 1996, Mr. Weber was posted abroad as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in Saudi Arabia, Germany, Kazakhstan,and Hong Kong. Mr. Weber is an independent consultant and a Strategic Advisor for Ginkgo BioWorks. He serves on the Boards of Healthcare Ready and the Arms Control Association, and the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies International Advisory Council. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dr. Rebecca Katz is a Professor and Director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security, and holds joint appointments in Georgetown University Medical Center and the School of Foreign Service. She teaches courses on global health diplomacy, global health security, and emerging infectious diseases in the Science, Technology and International Affairs, Security Studies, and Global Infectious Disease Programs. From 2004 to 2019, Dr. Katz was a consultant to the Department of State, working on issues related to the Biological Weapons Convention, pandemic influenza and disease surveillance. She returned to the Department of State in January 2021 as a senior advisor on the global COVID-19 response and global health securityDr. Katz received her undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College, an M.P.H. from Yale University, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. 

W. Ian Lipkin, MD, is the Director of the Center for Solutions for ME/CFS, the John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at the Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Director for the Center of Infection and Immunity with the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

He is internationally recognized for his contributions to global public health by being at the forefront of outbreak response and through the innovative methods he developed for infectious diseases diagnosis, surveillance, and discovery. These advances have been critical in replacing culture-dependent methods of global health management by creating new criteria for disease causation and de-linking spurious associations between putative agents and diseases. Such examples include refuting the MMR vaccine having a role in autism and XMRV in ME/CFS.

Lipkin consulted on testing and site safety protocols for the 2020 Democratic National Convention and the 2021 Academy Awards. He promotes public health awareness via print and broadcast media and served as scientific advisor to the 2011 Soderbergh film “Contagion”.

Moderator Wilmot James, PhD is Senior Research Scholar at ISERP. He received his PhD (Sociology and African History) from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Dr. James was a post-doctoral fellow of the Southern African Research Program at Yale University, the American Bar Foundation in Chicago and the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College. Dr. James pursued his interest in science and society (James, Nature’s Gifts: Why we are the way we are, WITS University Press, 2010) as a visiting fellow at the Economic and Social Research Council at the University of Edinburgh and as the Gordon Moore Visiting Professor in the Humanities at the California Institute of Technology. Dr. James currently serves as Member of the Accessible Medicines Advisory Board of Chimeron Bio; Member of the Board: Resolve to Save Lives; and Co-Chair of the G7 National Frameworks Working Group - Global Partnership - Africa Signature Initiative on Biosecurity. Dr. James current research interests are in global health security. He serves as a senior consultant to the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) in biosecurity. He is an honorary professor of public health at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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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)

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