Automated syndromic surveillance for the 2002 Winter Olympics
The 2002 Olympic Winter Games were held in Utah from February 8 to March 16, 2002. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the anthrax release in October 2001, the need for bioterrorism surveillance during the Games was paramount. A team of informaticists and public health specialists from Utah and Pittsburgh implemented the Real-time Outbreak and Disease Surveillance (RODS) system in Utah for the Games in just seven weeks. The strategies and challenges of implementing such a system in such a short time are discussed. The motivation and cooperation inspired by the 2002 Olympic Winter Games were a powerful driver in overcoming the organizational issues. Over 114,000 acute care encounters were monitored between February 8 and March 31, 2002. No outbreaks of public health significance were detected. The system was implemented successfully and operational for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and remains operational today.
The terrorism acts of September 11, 2001, and the bioterrorism in October 2001 brought the realities of a biological attack1 into our communities and drew attention to the emerging science of early detection of disease outbreaks.2 Developing early warning systems for the detection of bioterrorism has since become a national priority. If the next bioterrorism attack were to come in the form of a large-scale contamination of air, food, or water, its impact would be devastating unless mitigated by very early detection, characterization, and response. Early detection of such threats requires surveillance systems that can acquire appropriate data from multiple sources for a large portion of the population under surveillance and analyze the data in real or near-real time.
The spirit of collaboration and unity prompted by the events of September 11, 2001, and the approaching 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City provided the opportunity to deploy an automated syndromic surveillance system on a highly accelerated schedule. In this report, we discuss the choices we faced, the decisions we made, and the challenges we encountered during the course of this implementation. We describe our experience and suggest that the methods used form a practical framework for deploying a syndromic surveillance system at a regional level. We highlight the advantages of regional biosurveillance coalitions involving public health, academia, health care systems, and industry partners.