PIPP Phase I: Center for Pandemic Decision Science - Developing Robust Paradigms for Anticipating and Mitigating Uncertain Pathogen Threats


Despite decades of pandemic preparedness efforts, COVID-19 took the world by surprise. The national and global health community did not foresee the extend of challenges associated with charting ecosystems of potential threats, elucidating interdependent behavioral and political dynamics, and equipping decision makers with nimble science, strategies, and training. This project imagines a better prepared future for responding to pathogen threats and aims to build the basis for a Center for Pandemic Decision Science that will break down the persistent silos separating the academic, government, and industry institutions that have collectively, but not always collaboratively, guided pandemic preparedness and response efforts. Over the next 18 months, a team of 35 natural scientists, social scientists, computer scientists, engineers, physicians, and public health officials from 10 institutions will host a series of interdisciplinary workshops and undertake pilot studies that will lay the intellectual and organizational groundwork for tackling three fundamental research questions - How can we anticipate the vast universe of potential pathogen threats and detect them at their source? How will people, communities, and leaders behave and respond to emerging threats? How can we integrate science into decision making across the preparedness, containment, and response spectrum? For each of these questions, the team will identify immediate and long-term goals for basic research, training of scientists and decision makers, and development of predictive intelligence capabilities. These activities will establish a new research paradigm that is grounded in complex systems modeling, integrate perspectives and methods across diverse disciplines, and engage extensively with decision makers to ensure that the science is both relevant and practical. The project will broadly engage the research and public health communities through workshops and colloquia, train a diverse group of students, develop an undergraduate teaching module in pandemic decision science, and disseminate resulting insights and products through online platforms, media, and peer-reviewed publications. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this interdisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, social scientists, and clinicians has been developing mathematical models to provide situational awareness, actionable forecasts, and time-sensitive policy analyses for decision makers on all scales, from local to global. The team has partnered closely with government agencies, healthcare systems, and schools to provide predictive intelligence as the virus, human behavioral responses, and the arsenal of effective countermeasures continually shifted. This work has elucidated three interlinked grand challenges. The first is the global failure of imagination in anticipating novel pathogen threats, despite decades of concerted preparedness efforts. The second is the fundamental inability to anticipate individual, collective, and governmental behavioral responses during the threats. The third is the persistent gap between science and the decisions made by individuals, agencies, and policymakers. This project will launch a Center for Pandemic Decision Science that tackles these grand challenges by advancing the integration of complex systems science into pandemic decision making. As a first step, the Center will conduct a series of inclusive, multidisciplinary workshops and pilot studies that will spur innovative interdisciplinary research into the emergence and detection of novel threats, the dynamics of people’s behavior, and the design and adoption of adaptive decision paradigms for preventing, tracking and mitigating pathogen threats under uncertainty. These activities will hone the Center’s vision, identify key research priorities, and embark on a diverse portfolio of educational and community building activities to advance the science and practice of pathogen preparedness. This award is supported by the cross-directorate Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention Phase I (PIPP) program, which is jointly funded by the Directorates for Biological Sciences (BIO), Computer Information Science and Engineering (CISE), Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) and Engineering (ENG). This project was also funded in collaboration with the CDC to support research projects to further advance federal infectious disease modeling, prevention and response capabilities. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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