Dr. Ali Khan

In 1999, I co-developed the first public health bioterrorism preparedness program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program was triggered by violations of the Biological Weapons Convention and the realization that technological advances were making deliberate use of biological or chemical agents more likely and deadlier.

As the program’s deputy director, I established the biological terrorism preparedness Critical Agent list, published the first national public health preparedness plan, and initiated pilots of syndrome-based surveillance.

As operations chief of CDC’s Washington Anthrax Response Team, I directed the 2001 inhalational anthrax investigation at the Capitol and the Brentwood postal facility. Earlier preparedness investments in the Laboratory Response Network, Strategic National Stockpile and local public health capacity proved valuable. I recognized that unforeseen threats of this nature — combined with those from natural disasters and routine daily threats like food-borne outbreaks — could have impacts that transcend borders, posing health security challenges and requiring an investment in public health systems.

I am now responsible for all of CDC’s public health preparedness and response activities. In this role, I strengthen and support the nation’s health security, with a major focus on our local and state health partners, to save lives and protect against all public health threats.

Lessons from 9/11 and the anthrax attacks are still stark today. We cannot predict the next public health threat, but we can be ready to prevent, detect and respond.

Khan is director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.