Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent mailing of letters containing spores of Bacillus anthracis, the bacterial agent that causes anthrax, EPA was assigned its homeland security responsibilities. These responsibilities are described in the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act (Bioterrorism Act) of 2002, and a series of Homeland Security Presidential Directives. Specifically, EPA was charged with working with the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to ensure the protection of drinking and wastewater systems and to take lead on cleaning the environment following a contamination incident.
EPA has long held a leadership role in environmental protection and cleanup, but acts of terrorism could result in contamination with agents that EPA had no prior experience with. Through response to early incidents, EPA learned that scientific research was required to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of EPA's response. EPA established the Homeland Security Research Program to meet these goals.
The research of the HSRP has proven to have multiple applications. Research on decontaminating anthrax contaminated areas has been applied in responding to outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola. More recent major disasters such as the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, and increasingly severe weather showed that the health of communities requires resiliency to all types of disasters. Research that supports preparation for and response to intentional contamination is applicable to preparation and response to natural disasters.
HSRP supports community resiliency through its research related to EPA's responsibilities as lead federal agency:
- enhancing the security of water and wastewater systems
- remediating contamination incidents and natural disasters
- developing a nationwide laboratory network with the capacity and capability to analyze samples for the presence of chemicals and biotoxins, microbial pathogens, and radiological agents
EPA and partner agencies work to foster resiliency in communities through research for and technical assistance to organizations responsible for response and recovery.