By Sarah Maxwell
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 25, 2008 - An Army medical research facility and the Department of Homeland Security may seem like they have different operations, but when it comes to protecting the servicemembers and citizens of the United States, their mission is the same. This common goal led to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, part of the Medical Research and Materiel Command, streamlining its logistics and DHS receiving a new laboratory.
While its future home as part of the National Interagency Biodefense Campus is under construction until 2009, DHS needed a laboratory to house its bio-forensic analysis center. Opening its doors to help the DHS mission, the Army's infectious disease research institute offered one of its loading docks for space to build a lab in what most people involved call a win-win project.
"When there's interagency collaboration, it's the best value for the government," said Dr. Kevin Anderson, DHS's National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center deputy director. "We're working together to save the tax-payer's money while performing the mission."
The Army institute had two loading docks on separate ends of its 200-yard-long building. One was for bringing in lab supplies, the other was for hardware, and the logistics center was caught in the middle. The agency gave up one of its docks, enlarged and upgraded the other one, and then consolidated it with logistics administration to make an organized operation.
Beverly Maultsby, the research institute's chief of logistics, said that under the original configuration, equipment could take as long as 10 days to reach its destination in the building after it was unloaded. Now, most delivers are just a one-day process.
"The flow of materials is much easier for us," Maultsby said. "Being co-located with property management has made it better to serve our customers, which is everybody in USAMRIID."
Although the effort was about task consolidation, rearranging the logistics process created more space. The efficiency also saved money and gave managers a chance to improve security by controlling the flow of materials.
"We don't want our deliveries coming into our assets," said Robert Koning, the institute's facility manager. "It's much safer to consolidate all the logistics into one area and separate it from the labs."
The space from the unused loading dock was renovated into a modular B-1 laboratory for Homeland Security's federal law enforcement casework involving experiments used to identify and characterize possible agents from suspected terrorist incidents, Anderson said.
With an "excellent" record of safety and the program achieving a "gold standard" from the World Health Organization, Anderson said, the new lab is helping DHS to continue this success. It is also used to develop standardized operation procedures, or SOPs, that are crucial to quality assurance.
When a sample is collected from federal law enforcement and sent to the lab, the SOPs are used to find out what's in it and where it came from. Lab personnel determine how good the process is that helps attribute the sample to the individuals or groups who could have made it, which strengthens law enforcement, Anderson explained.
"Bio-forensic analysis is a very clean process," he said. "When we conduct the casework analysis, it must be able to stand up in court."
In addition to being able to pin down who might have used an agent, the collaborative effort has even broader benefits.
"If we have a process established to be able to conduct analysis and provide it to the FBI," Anderson said, "it may serve as a future deterrent to those who would harm the American people."
(Sarah Maxwell works in the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Public Affairs Office.)