CCID Spectrum
Volume 1, Number 4 September 2006

ATACS aids responders to bioterrorism, infectious disease outbreaks

By Melissa L. Taylor

ATACS associates
Julie Guarnizo (left), Molly Kellum (seated), and Cathy Stout (right) work on the ATACS program.

The Division of Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response (proposed) continues to provide the critical tools needed to rapidly assist responders during potential bioterrorism disease outbreaks and other public health infectious disease emergencies. The All Threats Agent Content System (ATACS), developed within DBPR’s Office of the Director, is an information management system that provides a central location for information needed to prepare for and respond to an act or threatened act of bioterrorism.

According to Cathy Stout, public health adviser and ATACS administrator, ATACS began as a result of the anthrax events of 2001. “At that time, there was no one easy source for response plans, policies, and guidelines needed for first responders and response teams,” Stout said.

Joe Posid, public health adviser currently on detail with the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response, began the development in early 2002 of a central repository for response-related documents, and version 2 of ATACS was released in late 2005, according to Molly Kellum, public health adviser and ATACS administrator.

Currently, ATACS provides CDC staff with the most up-to-date Category A biological agent resources available, including CDC-developed documents as well as resources from other federal agencies and non-federal sources. The Category A agents—anthrax, botulism, plague, smallpox, tularemia, and viral hemorrhagic fevers—are considered to pose the greatest potential threat for adverse public health impact.

There are more than 3,500 documents within the current ATACS system. These documents include, but are not limited to, response plans, case definitions, and patient management guidelines. All content within the ATACS system was reviewed by subject matter experts (SMEs) throughout the Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases. Final content is approved by the ATACS SMEs in DBPR and information is reviewed and updated as needed and on a regularly scheduled basis by ATACS administrators.

ATACS Information Management System

ATACS Web Utility
A screen shot shows the All Threats Agent Content System (ATACS) program, an information management system.

ATACS is being incorporated into CDC emergency response operations, according to Sherrie Bruce, deputy director of DBPR and operations team leader for several previous CCID responses. “The Planning and Training Branch of the Division of Emergency Operations within COTPER is using ATACS as a resource for BT (bioterrorism) specific agents. It’s also available for the DEOC watch staff. As more people become familiar with it, ATACS will provide a valuable ‘one-stop-shopping’ repository for documents during a response.”

ATACS offers several options to navigate through the system to quickly locate content. A search can be by the agent or disease and by a non-specific agent category that contains information applicable to all of the agents and diseases. A search also can be for content by ATACS's main categories—such as emergency response plans, epidemiology/surveillance, and media/communications—and by their subcategories. ATACS also allows a search by cross-cutting categories that do not apply to one specific agent or disease, but instead apply to all potential responses.

ATACS 2.0 also contains an advanced search function that allows narrowing a search by exact phrases, agents, categories, and document types. ATACS 2.0 contains quick links to Epi-X and the Laboratory Response Network on the right navigation bar. As an added user feature, ATACS 2.0 now provides a link to documents that have been updated since the user last logged on the system as well as a section that provides links to the user’s most recently viewed and accessed documents.

According to Stout, pandemic flu content will be added to ATACS as a new category. “This will be a user-friendly repository of up-to-date information and resources surrounding pan flu, such as epidemiology, surveillance, and laboratory content. And the information would be available to all responders if a pan flu event occurs,” Stout added. Other planned enhancements to ATACS include the addition of Category B and C agents and possibly the addition of chemical, environmental, and radiological response information.

All CCID staff and emergency coordinators across CDC have access to ATACS at all times. To access ATACS, use the following link: https://isa.cdc.gov/, and enter your log-in user ID and password. For more information about the ATACS system, or to schedule a demonstration of ATACS, please contact a member of the ATACS team:

Julie Guarnizo 404-639-0334 or
JGuarnizo@cdc.gov
Technical assistance (logging on, inactive links, etc.)
Molly Kellum 404-639-0408 or
MKellum@cdc.gov
Content for botulism, smallpox, and viral hemorrhagic fevers
Cathy Stout 404-639-4147 or
CStout@cdc.gov
Content for anthrax, plague, and tularemia

About the author: Melissa L. Taylor is a technical writer employed by Business Computer Applications, Inc., under the Northrop Grumman CDC Information Technology Services CITSII contract for the Division of Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response (proposed) in the National Center for Preparedness, Detection, and Control of Infectious Diseases (NCPDCID, proposed).