Suspicious packages and powders have triggered more than 30,000 responses by U.S. law enforcement agencies across the country since 2001. These events are expensive, time-consuming and potentially dangerous. To help first responders at all levels of government deal safely and more effectively with suspected biothreat agents, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and a broad team of federal, state and local agencies and other organizations worked together to update an existing standard for sample collection and develop overall guidance for when to collect a sample and how to coordinate with other agencies and organizations.
The original standard protocol for collecting and preserving samples of suspicious powders was developed and published in 2006 at the request of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by a multiagency team coordinated by NIST and AOAC (Association of Analytical Communities) International. It outlined a two-step process for collecting bulk samples of suspicious powder from a solid surface such as a desktop or tile, and the collection of residual material with swabs for use in field evaluation.
Recommendations for developing new, general guidelines to facilitate sample collection and coordination with a receiving laboratory came from members of two focus groups from the first responder community. With expertise in sample collection and forensic research, and unique relationships with government agencies and stakeholder communities, NIST, together with a coalition of federal, state and local agencies and stakeholder organizations, was able to revise the standard and develop new guidance.
Because many of the organizations involved in responding to these incidents have different concerns and needs for sample collection, broad acceptance of the new standard and guidance is critical. For example, first responders initially assess a situation by performing a risk assessment in coordination with public
|Contact: Jennifer Huergo|
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)