Deliberate Biological Event Glossary

This glossary describes terminology and acronyms used in the response to deliberate biological events.

After Action Report (AAR): a document describing the response to an incident and findings relating to the performance of a health system response during an incident. 

Agroterrorism: the threat or malicious use of biological agents against the agricultural or food-supply systems.

Airborne Transmission: infection with a biological agent through inhalation of weaponized aerial sprays or droplets discharged by an infected individual coughing or sneezing.

Allegation: a claim that someone has done something wrong, typically without proof.

Arms Trade Treaty (ATT): a 2014 treaty that establishes common standards for the international trade of conventional weapons and seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade.

Attribution Assessment: the process of assigning responsibility for an event, especially with sound evidence but often without conclusive proof.

Biobank: a managed repository of biological information that can be accessed for research and other purposes.

Biocrime: the threat or use of a biological agent by a non-state actor against persons or property with criminal motives (i.e., without a political agenda).

Biodefense: defensive measures taken to prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from harm or damage caused by a biological agent.

Biorisk: the chance that any type of adverse event involving a biological agent will occur.

Biosafety:  the process of maintaining safe conditions to prevent exposure to hazardous biological agents.

Biosafety Level: practices, equipment, and infrastructure associated with safely containing biohazardous materials or agents; levels correspond to actions that must be taken to contain increasingly dangerous agents.

Biosecurity: a set of processes used to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of a biological agent adversely affecting human, animal, or plant health.

Biological Agent: any toxin or microorganism, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, prions, and protozoa that are capable of producing a harmful effect in a living organism.

Biological Warfare: the use of a biological agent by a state-actor to cause death or harm to humans, animals, or plants.

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC): an international treaty concluded in 1972 prohibiting the development, production, proliferation, and retention of biological or toxin weapons.                       

Bioterrorism: the threat or use of a biological agent by a non-state actor against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

Bloodborne Transmission: infection through exposure to blood and other body fluids containing biological agents by sharps injuries, mucous membrane, and skin exposures.

Carrier: a person or animal that harbors an infectious agent for a disease and that can transmit it to others, but does not demonstrate symptoms of the disease.

Case: an entity identified as having a particular disease, health disorder, or condition under surveillance or investigation. Cases may be further classified as confirmed, suspect, or probable.

Chain of Custody: a formally documented continuity of possession, and proof of the integrity of evidence collected, which establishes each person having custody/being in possession of the evidence. In the medical or biological sphere, it refers to procedures ensuring that biological specimens are always in the custody of a person legally responsible for maintaining the integrity of the sample.

Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC): an international treaty concluded in 1997 prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons.

Circumstantial Evidence: indirect evidence that tends to establish a conclusion by inference.

Cluster: an aggregation of relatively uncommon events or diseases in space and/or time in amounts that are believed or perceived to be greater than could be expected by chance. 

Code of Conduct: guidelines that set behavioral standards for organizations or individuals.

Cold Chain: a system of storing and transporting medical countermeasures at recommended temperatures from the point of manufacture to the point of use.

Cohort: a group of individuals with a common defining characteristic (e.g. exposure to disease). The term does not imply spatial grouping. 

Communicable Disease: an illness due to a specific infectious agent or its toxic products that occurs through direct or indirect transmission of that agent or its products from an infected person, animal, or reservoir to a susceptible host.

Contact: an individual who has been in close proximity to another individual who is, or is suspected of being, infected with an infectious disease agent.

Contagious Disease: a disease that can be transmitted from the infected individual to others by contact with or close proximity to the individual or their bodily secretions.

Credible Threat: a threat that has good grounds for being true (i.e., information is from a reliable source).

Custody: under the care or control of a legal authority; usually related to a person or item (i.e., evidence).

Decontamination: procedures whereby infectious or toxic agents that may constitute a public health risk are reduced to a previously defined acceptable level from either a living or inanimate surface.

Deliberate Event: an event resulting from the intentional release of a biological agent that causes disease in humans, animals, or plants.

Disaster Risk Reduction: the development and application of policies, strategies, and practices to mitigate recognized vulnerabilities and disaster risks.

Disease: a harmful impairment to the state of an animal or plant, typically caused by a specific agent, and manifesting through the presentation of distinctive signs or symptoms.                                                         

Dual Use: agents, information, or technologies that have the potential to be used for both legitimate scientific purposes or for malevolent use.

Emerging Infectious Disease: an infectious disease that is novel in its epidemiologic range (geographic or host) or transmission mode.

Emergency Operations Center: a central facility responsible for carrying out the principals of emergency preparedness and management, or disaster management functions at a strategic level during an emergency.

Emergency Management: the managerial function charged with creating the framework for reducing the vulnerability to hazards and coping with disasters.

Epidemic: an occurrence of disease in animal or plant populations that is greater than would otherwise be expected at a particular time and place; may also be called a ‘disease outbreak.’

Epidemiology: the scientific field concerned with the determination of causes, incidence, and characteristic behavior of disease outbreaks at the population level.

Event: an occurrence that creates a potential for disease in humans, animals, or plants.

Epizoonosis: any disease that is maintained predominantly in animal populations.

Exercise: a scripted, scenario-based activity designed to evaluate a system’s capacity to achieve predefined objectives and to demonstrate its competencies and gaps for relevant tasks.

Exposure: any factor that may be associated with the infection or disease.

Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO): a specialized UN agency tasked with helping countries prepare for agriculture disasters by reducing their risk and enhancing the resilience of their food and agricultural systems.

Foodborne Transmission: infection through consuming food containing a biological agent.

Geneva Protocol: international treaty passed in 1925 that bans the use of chemical and biological agents in war.

Global Catastrophic Biological Risks (GCBRs): events in which biological agents could lead to sudden extraordinary, widespread disaster beyond the collective capability of national governments, international governments, and private sector actors to control. These agents may be naturally emerging or reemerging, deliberately created and released, or laboratory engineered and escaped.

Hazard:  an action, event, or phenomenon that may cause loss of life or injury, property damage, social and economic disruption, and/or environmental degradation.

HazMat: hazardous material (e.g., flammable, radioactive, or poisonous).

Healthcare Worker: an individual working in the provision of health services, whether or not professionally trained, and whether or not subject to public regulation; includes a variety of professions, such as clinicians, therapists, social workers, pharmacists, and other technicians.

Health Security: multisectoral efforts geared towards minimizing the impact of public health emergencies on populations, economies, and political stability.

Health Security Interface: public health activities whose performance involve to some extent the security sector broadly understood (law enforcement, police, national armies, ministries of defense, military doctors, international and non- governmental organizations with a security relevant mandate).

Health Threat: a threat to public health in the context of national or global security.

Herd Immunity: the resistance of a group of people or animals to infection with and spread of disease, based on the resistance of a high proportion of individual members of the group. Resistance is a product of the number susceptible and the probability that those who are susceptible will come into contact with an infected person.

Incidence: the number of new cases of disease during a specific period of time in a specific population.

Incident Command System: the standardized approach or hierarchy for the command, control, and coordination of emergency response personnel often across multiple agencies and organizations.

Incubation Period: the time interval between infection with a biological agent and the first appearance of disease symptoms.

Index Case: the first confirmed case of an outbreak.

Infection Control: a term used to describe measures designed to detect, prevent, and contain the spread of infectious disease.

Infectious Disease: a disease caused by agents that enter the body and then grow and multiply, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites.

Intelligence: the product produced through the process of collecting, analyzing, and developing raw information into useful data.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA): an international organization established in 1957 that reports to the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council regarding the use of nuclear technologies.

International Health Regulations (IHR): an international treaty obligating all Member States of the World Health Organization to uphold specific practices and procedures to detect, report, and respond to potential public health emergencies of international concern.

Intelligence Community: the collection of agencies, offices, programs, and bureaus that collect, analyze, and report on intelligence information.

Isolation: a method of infection control involving the separation and restriction of movement of diseased people or animals.

Mass Gathering: a gathering of persons usually defined as more than a specified number of persons (at least 1,000 persons) at a specific location for a specific purpose (a social function, large public event or sports competition) for a defined period of time.

Medical Countermeasures (MCMs): regulated products and equipment (e.g., drugs, vaccines, diagnostic tests, ventilators) that both prevent the harmful effects of a biological agent and mitigate consequences for those who become ill.

Medical Intelligence: the collection, analysis, and reporting of relevant health data to support force health protection, and the medical information of individuals.

Microbial Forensic: a scientific discipline dedicated to analyzing evidence from a bioterrorism act, biocrime, or inadvertent microorganism/toxin release for attribution purposes

Morbidity: the number of people with illness in a defined population, location, or another grouping of interest.

Mortality: the number of deaths within a defined population, location, or another grouping of interest.

National Control List: a list obligated by the ATT containing national definitions for battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons.

Non-Permissive Environment: an operational environment in which host forces are opposed towards operations, or do not have the capability to assist in necessary operations.

Notifiable Disease: a disease that must be reported to appropriate authorities, as mandated by either by law or regulation.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty:  a 1970 treaty that strives to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW): a group of 192 Member States that represents the implementing body of the CWC.

Outbreak: an occurrence of disease in animal or plant populations that is greater than would otherwise be expected at a particular time and place; may also be called an ‘epidemic.’

Pandemic: an epidemic occurring over multiple continents, affecting a substantial proportion of the global population, and resulting in a global increase of morbidity and mortality.

Permissive Environment: an operational environment in which host government forces are receptive towards operations, or have the intent and capability to assist in necessary operations.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): clothing and equipment worn for the protection against health hazards; equipment may include masks, respiratory protective devices, protective clothing, and other forms of protection.

Point of Entry (PoE): a passage for international entry or exit of travelers, baggage, cargo, containers, conveyances, goods and other parcels, and the agencies and areas providing services to them upon immediate entry or exit. 

Preparedness: the actions and policies associated with preventing, protecting against, responding to, and recovering from an event.

Prevalence: the total number of cases of disease during a specific period of time in a specific population.

Prophylaxis: an infection control measure whereby antimicrobial medications are taken by a healthy individual to prevent illness before or after exposure to an individual with a communicable disease.

Public Health Emergency (PHE): an acute event capable of causing large-scale morbidity and mortality, either immediately or over time.

Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC): an extraordinary event which is determined, to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response. 

Public Health Preparedness (PHP): the actions and policies associated with preventing, protecting against, responding to, and recovering from public health emergencies.

Quarantine: a method of infection control involving the separation and restriction of movement of asymptomatic people or animals that may have been exposed to an infectious agent.

Rapid Response Team (RRT): a group of trained individuals that is ready to respond quickly to an event.

Recovery: the coordinated process of supporting affected communities in reconstructing their physical infrastructure, and the restoration of emotional, social, economic and physical well-being. 

Reservoir: the principal source in which an infectious agent normally lives and whose presence may constitute a public health risk.

Resilience: the capacity to withstand and/or recover successfully from damage.

Response: actions taken before, during, and immediately after the occurrence of an event, to ensure that the effects of that event are minimized and people are given immediate relief and support. 

Risk: the probability of harmful consequences or expected losses (deaths, injuries, economic damage, environmental damage, property damage, etc.) resulting from interactions between hazards and vulnerable conditions.

Risk assessment: the process used to determine risk management priorities by evaluating and comparing given levels of risk to pre-determined standards, target risk levels, or other criteria.

Risk communication: the exchange of information and opinions concerning hazards, risks, and risk-related factors.

Risk management: a systematic approach to identifying, addressing, and reducing the risks associated with specific hazards. Risk management includes the related tasks of risk assessment, risk communications, risk preparedness, and risk response.

Risk preparedness: the planning, organizing and implementing activities to prepare for or mitigate a risk.

Risk response: directing and managing the activities involved in responding to a risk.

Sentinel surveillance: a surveillance system that relies on monitoring the rate of occurrence of specific, predetermined conditions to assess the stability or change in health levels of a population. It is generally used to examine disease rates in a specific cohort to estimate trends in a larger population. 

Strategic (National) Stockpile: a stockpile of drugs, vaccines, and medical equipment that can be rapidly deployed in response to a public health emergency.

Social Distancing: an infection control strategy that includes methods taken to restrict when and where people can gather with the intent of stopping or slowing the spread of communicable diseases.

Surge Capacity: the ability of a health care system (clinical care facilities and laboratories) to accommodate a sharp increase demand beyond normal services during a public health emergency.

Surveillance: the systematic ongoing collection, collation, and analysis of data to aid in the detection and monitoring of biological incidents, disease activity or threats to health.

Sterilization: procedures whereby infectious or toxic agents that may constitute a public health risk are eliminated from either a living or inanimate surface.

Syndromic surveillance: a form of surveillance that relies on the use of clinical observations (rather than laboratory confirmation of diagnosis) to monitor the health levels of a population. Such data can be used to signal sufficient probability of a case or outbreak to warrant further public health investigation and response. 

Synthetic Biology: a field of biology combining engineering in the formulation, design, and building of biological structures, functions, and systems that do not naturally exist.

Threat Agents (Categories): categories (A, B, or C) assigned to known biological threat agents, based on the amount of morbidity and mortality the agents are capable of causing, the perceived ease of weaponization, their history of weaponization, and the need for specific response planning.

Threat and Hazard Identification Risk Assessment (THIRA): the process for identifying and articulating the threats and hazards, and their associated risks, and their potential harm should they occur. THRIA processes help community planners in determining priorities for preparedness and planning efforts.

Threat Credibility Evaluation: an assessment to determine how credible the threat is and what further action should be taken. Includes analyzing the threat’s technical feasibility, operational practicality, and intent.

Toxin: a poisonous substance produced by a living entity.

United Nations (UN): an intergovernmental organization founded in 1945 tasked with promoting international co-operation and maintaining international order by taking action on a variety of issues including peace and security, climate change, sustainable development, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, humanitarian and health emergencies, governance, food production, and others.

United Nations Secretary General’s Mechanisms (UNSGM) of Alleged Use: UN Missions focus on collecting relevant data/information and performing analyses in order to ascertain facts related to the allegation for Investigations of use, all of which are provided within a report to the Secretary General.

Vector-borne Transmission: infection through a living intermediary (e.g., mosquito, flea, tick) that carries an agent from a reservoir to a susceptible host.

Veterinary Worker: an individual who is engaged in the care and management of animals, and who are trained in basic principles of animal life processes and animal health care procedures. May include a variety of professions, such as veterinarians, veterinary nurses, or animal laboratory technicians.

Vulnerability: the degree to which a community is susceptible to hazards as a result of physical, social, economic, and environmental characteristics. 

Waterborne Transmission: infection through physical contact with (including drinking) water containing a biological agent.

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs): weapons with the ability to cause large-scale destruction or harm, generally including nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological weapons.

World Health Organization (WHO): the directing and coordinating authority for human health within the UN system. It is responsible for providing leadership on public health matters, setting research agendas, articulating evidence-based policy options, and providing technical support to countries.

World Organization for Animal Health (OIE): the directing and coordinating authority for animal health. It is responsible for collecting and analyzing scientific information on animal disease control, providing technical support for animal disease control and eradication operations, setting research agendas, and harmonizing trade regulations for animals and animal products.

Zoonosis: any disease that is transmitted from animal to human populations.

This glossary draws from definitions listed in the following works:

Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). (2015). National Health Security Strategy and Implementation Plan: 2015–2018. Washington: United States Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed on December 19, 2017.

Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). (2015). National Health Security Strategy and Implementation Plan: 2015–2018. Washington: United States Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed on December 19, 2017.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2016). Bloodborne Infectious Diseases. Accessed on December 7, 2017.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). (2005). Joint Criminal and Epidemiological Investigations Handbook – 2015 Domestic Edition. Accessed on November 20, 2017.

Geib AJ., Burns MM. (2006). Food- And Water-Borne Agents. In R. E. Antosia & J. D. Cahill (Eds.), Handbook of Bioterrorism and Disaster Medicine. Boston: Springer US.

Gordis L. (2013). Epidemiology, 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders. ISBN: 9781455737338

International Epidemiological Association (IEA). (2014). A Dictionary of Epidemiology, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Katz R., Banaski, J. (Forthcoming 2018). Essentials of Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Management, 2nd ed. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Schoch-Spana M., Cicero A., Adalja A., et al. (2017). Global Catastrophic Biological Risks: Toward a Working Definition. Health Security, 15(4): 323-28.

World Health Organization. (2015). Public health for mass gatherings: key considerations. Geneva: World Health Organization.