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Fall 2005 - Improving biosecurity

Destination Purdue > Fall 2005 - Improving biosecurity

Program aims to improve biosecurity

By Neil Faussett

One of the ways terrorists could strike the United States is through the food supply. Antrax, for example, could be released into the country's beef supply, causing death or illness in thousands of people and costing billions of dollars.

In 2004, Purdue University's Department of Food Science and Krannert School of Management collaborated to create the nation's first biosecurity simulation computer program. The program creates bioterror scenarios that require users to find ways to contain simulated catastrophes without causing panic, significant economic damage or death.

Krista Schultze, a food science graduate student from Marion, Texas, has been working with the program. "The program can't prevent bioterrorism, but can speed the process of correcting the problem," said Schultze. The results, she said, can be tangible. "Rather than lose $10 million and hundreds of lives, the speed of the program can reduce the economic loss to $1 million and minimize the number of lives lost."

Richard Linton, a professor of food science and a biosecurity researcher, says Purdue is the only university with a program like it. "Other institutions work with hard evidence when studying bioterrorism," said Linton. "Working with this is very time-consuming. What makes our program more advantageous is that our program allows us to just plug in another scenario into the computer.

Despite this research tool, Linton said that bioterrorism can't be prevented and is unpredictable. He says bioterrorism is an ongoing threat. "You can't stop it from happening, but what you can do is know what steps to take in order to be prepared when a crisis hits."

A significant amount of time was spent researching and preparing for the program, according to Travis Selby, a food science doctoral student from Corning, Iowa. "We spent over 800 hours doing research and talking to food companies all over the country," he said.

Selby said the program will benefit all citizens, because it prepares people for catastrophes. "With this program, we plan on being proactive instead of reactive."