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Homeland Security Research Program (HSRP)

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent mailing of letters containing spores of Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria 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 woriking 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 contaminant incident.   

EPA has long held a leadership role in environmental protection and cleanup, but the recognition that acts of terrorism could result in contamination with agents that EPA had no prior experience with. Through response to these early incidents, EPA learned that scientific research was required to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of EPA's response to these incidents.  EPA established the HSRP to fill these gaps.

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 and burkholderia.  More recent major disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the Oklahoma tornadoes in 2013 showed that the health of communities requires resiliency to all types of disasters through preparation and  the means to rapidly recover.  Research in support of preparation and response to intentional contamination is applicable to preparation and response to natural disasters as well.

HSRP supports community resiliency through its research related to EPA's lead federal agency responsibilities:

  • maintaining the security of water and wastewater systems
  • remediation following contamination incidents and natural disasters
  • development of a nationwide laboratory network with the capacity and capability to analyze samples for the presence of chemicals and biotoxins, microbial pathogens, or radiological agents

EPA and partner agencies work to foster resiliency in communities through research and technical assistance for organizations responsible for response and recovery.  

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Homeland Security Research Program (HSRP) Plan

Caused naturally or by humans, environmental emergencies continue to challenge our nation. The use of chemical threats in Syria and the United Kingdom, the opioid epidemic, and several recent water system contamination incidents that affected hundreds of thousands of people, remind us of the impact that chemical contaminants can have on public health. Further, the radiological contamination following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 demonstrated the significant impact and challenge of cleaning up large-scale contamination incidents. Smaller-scale incidents, such as the attempted ricin poisonings in several communities around the country, also highlight the ever-present threat of terrorism post 2001.  

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for helping communities prepare for and recover from disasters that result in threats to public health and the environment. EPA's Homeland Security Research Program (HSRP) aims to increase the United States’ capabilities to prepare for and respond to releases of oil and hazardous substances into the environment, as mandated by Congress. The hazardous substances involved can include chemical, radiological, nuclear, and biological materials. There are considerable gaps in our capabilities to address these risks, including

  • understanding the behavior of contaminants when released into the environment
  • potential public exposures, determining where contamination is present that may pose an exposure risk
  • cleaning up contaminated areas and infrastructure

Enhancing capabilities for response and remediation of contaminated areas and protecting water systems will improve our nation’s resilience to environmental catastrophes. 

The Homeland Security Strategic Research Action Plan (StRAP), 2019-2022, is a four-year research strategy designed to meet the following objectives: 

  • Research Objective 1: Advance EPA’s capabilities and those of our state, tribal, and local partners to respond to and recover from wide-area contamination incidents; and 
  • Research Objective 2: Improve the ability of water utilities to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from water contamination incidents that threaten public health.  

EPA’s HSRP is organized into three topics supporting these objectives:

  1. contaminant characterization and consequence assessment;
  2. environmental cleanup and infrastructure remediation
  3. systems approaches to preparedness and response.

Short- and long-term goals accomplished through research areas within these topics outline a strategy for addressing the objectives. 

HSRP performs applied research that delivers methods, data, technologies, and technical expertise in support of federal, regional, state, tribal, water system, and local community resilience. HSRP engages partners throughout the research life-cycle to ensure their needs are being met. HSRP products provide systems-based approaches to site characterization, risk assessment, and remediation (which includes waste management) to address large-scale contaminated areas and water systems. Federal, state, tribal, and local decision makers will have access to the information and tools they need to prepare for and recover from catastrophes involving environmental contamination incidents that threaten public health.

Read EPAs full Homeland Security Strategic Research Action Plan 2016–2019 

Related Resources

Disaster Related Resources

Laboratory Resources

Food Safety

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