Story by Darnell Gardner
FORT BELVOIR, Va. – Recognized across the government as the “24/7” Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and High Yield Explosive (CBRNE) subject matter experts, the Secretary of Defense’s Office and the Department of Health and Human Services sought the support of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) modeling and simulation expertise during the pandemic response. DTRA led models and simulations enabled the U.S. government to anticipate future COVID hot-spots and thereby enable the movement of therapeutics to where they would be needed. This quantitatively informed analysis ensured those areas that would be hardest hit by COVID had the capabilities they needed to respond.
While these efforts bore particular fruit in support of the national COVID response effort, this type of threat anticipation provides Joint Force leaders with insight on how to best execute actions that can save lives and ensure mission success. While the threat presented by COVID was not expected, the ability to anticipate and be prepared for emerging hot-spots presented decision-makers with insight on how to mitigate negative impacts of the pandemic.
“DTRA modelling and simulation gave decision makers a ‘look’ into the unfathomable and a view into potential future impact caused by COVID-19, and it explained what could be done,” stated Mr. Todd Hann, chief of DTRA’s modelling and simulation efforts. “We use these tools to analyze scenarios of WMD to estimate the effects and provide analysis on potential courses of action to mitigate and respond.”
In recent years, DTRA has developed more sophisticated models, such as the Comprehensive National Incident Management System (CNIMS). CNIMS takes into account spatial spread of people, demographic distribution, vaccine efficacy, and the potential effects of wearing masks and social distancing.
In addition, DTRA leveraged a newly formed partnership with Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) to upgrade their systems for greater detailed reports. The EpiGrid, a DTRA-funded M&S tool, received enhancements by LANL to deliver a more powerful compartmental modeling system. This enabled DTRA to provide quick-turn products for OCONUS epidemiological modeling.
When the outbreak began, DTRA used the EpiGrid to model the potential disease spread as a function of time and space.
“We ran these multiple times, verified with collected data, and repeated the process to confirm. As the model time progressed, we identified the potential spread and high numbers of infections in a place away from where it started. These places with high rates were referred to as hotspots,” explained Hann.
Hann further stated that since the models forecast the number of infections occurring as a function of time, specialists then calculated occurrences such as how many people will go to hospital and how many will require ICU beds and respirators. After comparing predicted numbers against actually collected data in the local jurisdiction, the results yielded insights for how the public health system could most effectively pre-position key medical resources.
“We can also model a subset of the population, such as military installations like we are doing now for OSD, in order to drive analysis on something very specific,” stated Hann.
Dr. Aiguo Wu, a medical research analyst at DTRA, detailed how DTRA worked with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to analyze data based on the number of hospitalizations per reported case and number of deaths.
“Early in the pandemic, we didn't have good numbers, so we used similar agents such as SARS-COV-1 or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome as a reference. As time progressed, we got specific data relative to COVID19. To this day, the numbers are tracked and vary based on county or state,” explained Wu.
In an effort to share COVID-19 related information throughout DoD and the U.S. government, DTRA developed an online interactive dashboard that provided more than 6,100 users access to DTRA’s COVID-19 modeling system. This assisted those users as they forecast infection rates using real-time data. As part of this effort, DTRA responded to more than 400 requests for information (RFI) and provided models of more than 70 countries.
“The population as a whole has a say in how we get through this pandemic. There will be instances where a computer model cannot predict every scenario, such as virus mutation, or mitigate-measure politics. However, DTRA has a team of epidemiologists and microbiologists that look at the data and trends on a 24/7 basis to ensure global health security officials have the best decision-making tools to mitigate the effects on the next CBRN threat,” stated Hann.