Case #1895.1

Keeping an Open Mind in an Emergency: CDC experiments with 'Team B' (Epilogue)

Publication Date: January 01, 2008
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This case describes the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) efforts, in the early 2000s, to develop protocols addressing the growing complexity of public health emergencies. The CDC's chief response to public health emergencies was a prompt investigation--combining epidemiological, clinical, and laboratory data--in order to identify, then prevent, contain, and cure the ailment in question. The agency's traditional approach used past emergencies as a guide, which permitted the timely dissemination of information. But as the CDC was faced with increasingly novel emergencies, the traditional approach became ineffective. New, resurgent, and drug-resistant pathogens were on the rise, and the 2001 anthrax attacks demonstrated the threat posed by the malicious release of deadly or weaponized pathogens. In late 2001, the question was posed: "How can the CDC continue to move fast, pursuing the likeliest explanation for a disease outbreak, but still remain open to the possibility of a more unusual explanation?" Top-level CDC strategists considered adding a new feature, designated "Team B," to handle emergency investigations such as large or unusual incidents. Team B would be comprised of people with specialized expertise, but with no significant responsibility to the investigation itself. This group would convene over the course of the investigation, review the latest developments, and search for alternative interpretations of the data, that the principal investigating team had either missed or readily dismissed.

Learning Objective:
This case details the CDC's focus on intelligence gathering and interpretation, and the eventual abandonment of Team B.

Other Details

Case Author:
Pamela Varley
Faculty Lead:
Herman B. (Dutch) Leonard and Arnold M. Howitt
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States
Funding Source:
Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a project sponsored by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention