DHS Launches $300K Challenge to Uncover Emerging Biothreats

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) launched the Hidden Signals Challenge, a $300,000 prize competition that seeks concepts for novel uses of existing data to uncover emerging biothreats. The Challenge calls upon data innovators from a wide variety of fields to develop concepts that will identify signals and achieve timelier alerts for biothreats in our cities and communities.

“This Challenge is one of the many ways S&T is working to keep our communities safe,” said DHS Under Secretary (Acting) for Science and Technology, William N. Bryan. “The technologies and data sources available today present an unprecedented opportunity. By harnessing new streams of information, we may ultimately identify and resolve an emerging threat faster.”

Biothreats occur when harmful pathogens are either naturally or deliberately released, posing a risk to national security and public health. Often, biothreats are hard to immediately identify, and their spread can be hard to contain. Currently, there are a variety of systems and tools in place to identify biothreats, however they rely largely on health data, which presents challenges for real-time alerts and early detection. 

This Challenge aims to harness new technologies and data sources to identify an emerging problem quickly and confidently, so cities can ultimately resolve it faster. Successful concepts will explore connections between multiple readily-accessible data sources to develop real-time insights that can improve public safety responses to emerging biothreats. Warnings will ideally point to signals that emerge zero-to ten-days from the first instances of exposure, using timely data sets that become available less than 36 hours after inputs are received 

DHS intends for this work to be the first step in the design of a local and/or national system that could enable city-level operators to make critical and proactive decisions based on the most relevant and actionable insights. The Challenge focuses on large metropolitan areas such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., as the basis for a proof of concept, but is open to solutions that address all geographic locations.

Those interested in participating in the Challenge should submit their concept by 4:59 PM ET, Monday, December 4, 2017. The judges, who are experts in areas such as biomedical informatics, biological defense, and emergency management, will evaluate the submissions and select up to five Finalists to advance to Stage 2. Finalists will be awarded $20,000 in seed money in Stage 1 to further develop concepts into detailed system designs in Stage 2.

For more information about the Hidden Signals Challenge, visit hiddensignalschallenge.com.

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