Making the decision on where to build the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) was a long and involved process, but in the end, Manhattan and Kansas State University proved the ideal location.
An animal disease research facility that operates under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the NBAF is expected to be up and running by late 2022 or early 2023. Construction is well underway on the facility, a state-of-the-art biocontainment laboratory for the study of diseases that threaten both the country’s animal agriculture industry and public health.
It will replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which is located in New York and has been in operation since the mid-1950s.
“There’s only so much you can do to upgrade (the Plum Island site) before it’s no longer effective,” says Marty Vanier, director of Partnership Development for the NBAF Program Executive Office. “The government understood this a number of years ago, so back in the early 2000s, it laid out some requirements for a laboratory and criteria for selection.”
Homeland Security received around 30 proposals and narrowed the selection down to 11 sites.
“The criteria had to do with being near a university community that had a veterinary school, where there would be adequate workforce development as well as community acceptance,” Vanier adds. “There were a variety of things that came together and pointed to Manhattan.”
Located within the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor – the world’s largest concentration of animal health companies – and anchored by a 574,000-square-foot main laboratory building, the NBAF will conduct research, develop vaccines, diagnose emerging diseases and train veterinarians. It will also be the nation’s first laboratory facility with maximum biocontainment space to study zoonotic diseases that can affect large livestock and be especially harmful to humans. It can actually house cattle and other livestock on-site for research.
In effect, the facility on federally owned land on the KSU campus not only replaces the one at Plum Island, but also enhances its capabilities.
“The research portfolio will expand quite a bit, and is expected to increase from what they’re able to do at Plum Island,” Vanier says. “This laboratory will be quite a bit larger with lots more capabilities.”
Layers of Security
Vanier’s main role is in community outreach, communicating with collaborators such as scientists or those in the animal pharmaceutical industry and interacting with researchers from the human health community who may be working on a zoonotic disease. She is also responsible for helping to educate the greater community on the facility’s overall impact.
“Surrounding towns and three or four counties will be impacted by the laboratory being located here,” she says. “I’ve been helping folks understand what it’s going to mean, not only for the economy in the area, but helping them understand the mission of the laboratory and just how important it is for United States agriculture.”
And as needed, she has also stressed the steps that have been taken to ensure the facility’s security and safety for the community.
“Containment laboratories are very, very sophisticated buildings, and it’s not about just the construction and engineering of the building,” Vanier explains. “There are a lot of security systems; mechanisms in place that are meant to restrict the particular disease agents and prevent them from leaving the building. There are a variety of operational factors, including the processes that people use to enter and exit the laboratory and the particular processes and equipment they use when doing research on those agents,” she says.
“All of that provides various levels and layers of security to keep the agents within the laboratory. We’ve done a lot of work with the community in explaining those things.”