Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies

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The Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is an independent, nonprofit organization which researches "ways that lessen the illness, death, and civil disruption that would follow large-scale epidemics, whether they occur naturally or result from the use of a biological weapon." [1] The Center has been criticized for overstating the bioterrorist threat to extract more federal dollars for biodefense.

The Center was formerly known as the Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies.

"The Center for Biosecurity is an independent nonprofit organization . Our mission is to strengthen U.S. national security and resilience by reducing dangers posed by epidemics, biothreats, nuclear disasters, and other destabilizing events." Prior to joining UPMC in 2003 as the Center for Biosecurity, the group was founded in 1998 as the first and only academic center focused on biosecurity policy and practice. [1]

Projects and Criticism

Under then-CEO Tara O'Toole (currently Under Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate), the Center produced two simulated exercises that purported to show America woefully underprepared for a bioterror attack.[2]

In June 2001, the Center produced Dark Winter, an exercise that simulated how a single smallpox outbreak could threaten millions of lives in 15 countries. In 2005, it helped produce Atlantic Storm (interactive website here), another exercise simulating the medical, social, political, and economic disruption that could arise from an international epidemic, and highlighting the need for advance planning.[3]

An Army War College report later found that both exercises overstated the extent of the threat. According to the report, Dark Winter tripled the normal transmission rate for smallpox — “mak[ing] it next to impossible for the game players to do very much to contain the outbreak, and assur[ing] a disastrous outcome irrespective of whatever control measures the players may attempt to carry out.”[4], [5] Atlantic Storm had similar issues. According to the report, it made “grossly misleading assumptions” about the ease of creation and dispersion of the same biological agent — assuming bioterrorists would enjoy a capability that neither the Americans nor Soviets could achieve at the heights of the Cold War.[4]


The Center says its mission "is to strengthen national security by reducing the risks posed by biological attacks, epidemics, and other destabilizing events, and to improve the nation’s resilience in the face of such events." [6] The Center says it "conducts innovative research and delivers reliable analyses that:[6]

  • assess the threats and challenges posed by biological weapon attacks, large-scale epidemics, and other large disasters;
  • identify key barriers and solutions to prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery across the public and private sectors;
  • advance the development of new technologies, medicines, and vaccines to deal with these challenges; and
  • improve global public health and security.

Their mission circa 2008 included:

  • "Provide independent, critical research and analysis for decision makers in government, national security, bioscience, medicine, public health, and private industry
  • Build international networks of scientists, medical and public health practitioners, scholars, and decision makers to improve communication about biosecurity, create common objectives, and facilitate development of new knowledge
  • Propose, design, build, test, and promulgate essential operational systems needed to manage the response to bioattacks and mass casualty epidemics
  • Develop scenarios for decision makers that illustrate key challenges in epidemic preparedness and response and offer possible paths forward
  • Promote the responsible use and governance of increasingly powerful bioscience and biotechnologies;"

Personnel [7]

Executive Officers

Past Executive Officers

Distinguished Scholars

Past Distinguished Scholar

Senior Associates and Associates

Past Senior Associates and Associates


Past Analysts


The Center for Biosecurity of UPMC
The Pier IV Building
621 E. Pratt Street, Suite 210
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Phone: (443) 573-3304
Fax: (443) 573-3305


  1. Center for Biosecurity About, accessed April 25, 2020.
  2. Bio, / The Washington Post, accessed August 31, 2010.
  3. Atlantic Storm analysis and lessons from the UPMC- Biosecurity website, accessed August 31, 2010.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Noah Schactman, DHS New Geek in Chief is a Biodefense Disaster Critics Charge "Wired Danger Room Blog", May 6, 2009.
  5. A VACCINE FOR THE HYPE: Milton Leitenberg's new “Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat”, National Security Notes, March 31, 2006, accessed August 31, 2010.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Mission Statement from the UPMC-Biosecurity webpage, accessed August 31, 2010.
  7. Staff page, UPMC-Biosecurity website, accessed August 31, 2010.