Published on in Vol 9, No 1 (2017):

NBIC Biofeeds: A Digital Tool for Open Source Biosurveillance across Federal Agencies

NBIC Biofeeds: A Digital Tool for Open Source Biosurveillance across Federal Agencies

NBIC Biofeeds: A Digital Tool for Open Source Biosurveillance across Federal Agencies

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The National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC) is

developing a scalable, flexible open source data collection, analysis,

and dissemination tool to support biosurveillance operations by

the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its federal

interagency partners.


The NBIC integrates, analyzes, and distributes key information

about health and disease events to help ensure the nation’s responses

are well-informed, save lives, and minimize economic impact. NBIC

serves as a bridge between Federal, State, Local, Territorial, and

Tribal entities to conduct biosurveillance across human, animal, plant,

and environmental domains. The integration of information enables

early warning and shared situational awareness of biological events

to inform critical decisions directing response and recovery efforts.

To meet its mission objectives, NBIC utilizes a variety of data

sets, including open source information, to provide comprehensive

coverage of biological events occurring across the globe. NBIC

Biofeeds is a digital tool designed to improve the efficiency of

reviewing and analyzing large volumes of open source reporting

by biosurveillance analysts on a daily basis; moreover, the system

provides a mechanism to disseminate tailored feeds allowing NBIC to

better meet the specific information needs of individual, interagency

partners. The tool is currently under development by the Department

of Energy (DOE), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)

and it is in a testing and evaluation phase supported by NBIC

biosurveillance subject matter experts. Integration with the Defense

Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), Biosurveillance Ecosystem

(BSVE) is also underway. NBIC Biofeeds Version 1 is expected to

be fully operational in Fiscal Year 2017.


The PNNL is applying agile methodology to streamline the build

of NBIC Biofeeds to specifications required for operational use by

NBIC and its federal interagency partners. Biosurveillance, analytics,

and system engineering subject matter experts provide guidance on

the implementation of features in the tool to ensure functionality

aligns with operational workflows and production support. PNNL is

leveraging software from a previous government effort to repurpose

the technology to meet NBIC needs. NBIC Biofeeds incorporates

the open source, document-orientated MongoDB database to capture

user- and system-generated metadata on hundreds of thousands

of records, in part, to establish baselines to aid prospective and

retrospective analysis on emerging biological events. NBIC Biofeeds

integrates a biosurveillance taxonomy (uniquely developed by NBIC),

which includes input from interagency partners to recognize critical

characteristics of a biological event. In NBIC Biofeeds Version

1, metadata capture of reported events is done manually by NBIC

analysts; however, moving forward in Version 2, the tool will be

further automated to flag significant reporting on biological events

with a human remaining in the loop to confirm the validity of the

system-generated tags.


To serve as a one-stop tool for open source biosurveillance,

NBIC Biofeeds automatically harvests information from thousands

of websites, utilizing third party aggregators, paid subscriptions to

data feeds, and scraping of high priority sources. Users can develop

desired queries for automatic updating, leverage a unique review

and curation mechanism, and further analyze data from topical,

geographic, and temporal visualization features in the tool. To meet

NBIC’s information sharing needs, the tool allows for design of

tailored RSS feeds and electronic message-based delivery of analysis

on biological events, intended for recipients in the government with

unique missions around human, animal, plant, and environmental



Through current testing and evaluation – underway by

biosurveillance subject matter experts – NBIC Biofeeds is

demonstrating value in supporting open source biosurveillance

by the Center for more rapid recognition and sharing of key event

characteristics. Centralizing access and analysis of this dataset

into a single system is increasing the efficiency of daily, global

biosurveillance, while enhancing the value of information identified

through use of the querying, curation, and production support features

in the tool.