DHS’ Hidden Signals Challenge to improve tracking of biological and epidemiological threats

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is on the biothreat/pandemic train–not quite in time for this bad influenza season, but perhaps for next–in developing an accelerator to fund companies researching mapping potential disease outbreaks. The DHS Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) is collaborating with the Office of Health Affairs National Biosurveillance Integration Center on finding novel ways to use existing data that will identify signals and achieve timelier alerts for biothreats from the local level up. 

Five companies won Stage 1 of the Challenge and were awarded $20,000 grants:

  • The Commuter Pattern Analysis for Early Biothreat Detection program, developed by Readiness Acceleration & Innovation Network (RAIN). This is designed to recognize commuter absenteeism to flag a possible disease outbreak.
  • Monitoring Emergency Department Wait Times to Detect Emergent Influenza Pandemics, developed by Vituity. This tracks spikes in emergency room wait times from a network of 142 hospitals in 19 states that can be attributed to emergent flu pandemics. 
  • The One Health Alert System. This program analyzes the Daily Disease Report’s top 10 symptoms, reported by 43 healthcare providers in North Carolina.
  • Pandemic Pulse, developed by the Computational Epidemiology Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital. This gathers data from Twitter, Google Search, HealthMap and transportation and news sites, then compares that to live transportation data and Flu Near You.
  • Pre-syndromic Surveillance. This AI-based platform detects emerging clusters of rare disease cases that do not correspond to known syndrome types through real-time emergency room chief complaint data with social media and news data.

In Stage 2 from now through April, finalists will further develop their concepts into detailed system designs with guidance from expert mentors. The winner, to be announced later this Spring, will receive the $200,000 grand prize. DHS Hidden Signals Challenge website, Challenge blog, mHealth Intelligence

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