FBI workshop raises awareness against biosecurity threats

Christina Breitbeil

Close to 40 people gathered at the Texas Student Union Theater Wednesday for the FBI Academic Biosecurity Workshop, where speakers discussed the current issues regarding biosecurity and the steps taken among law enforcement to prevent security threats at both a local and federal level.

The audience, which included campus police, graduate and undergraduate students, had the opportunity to listen to speakers such as Jim Runkel, assistant weapons of mass destruction coordinator for the Austin FBI, and William So, weapons of mass destruction directorate for the FBI Headquarters. So gave a 90 minute “biosecurity overview presentation.” 

The ultimate objective of the workshop is to foster a cooperative relationship between law enforcement officials and research institutions to reduce biosecurity issues — such as terrorism, cyber security and sensitive research — that could potentially harm the public. So further discussed the ideal result of these workshops.

“Our intent is to hear from local communities — like UT Austin, UT-El Paso and Texas Tech — what’s working at a local level to ensure security and how each one has developed different protocols,” So said. “What works at UC Davis may not work at UT Austin, but we can bring together the most generally successful techniques and share them among the universities.” 

The FBI works daily to prevent the possible offenders from obtaining the materials, technology or expertise needed to attack U.S. citizens using biological weapons. The workshop outlined several biosecurity measures and regulations that can be implemented without inhibiting scientific advancement in independent and nongovernmental research.

Meredith Bessellieu, international relations and global studies freshman, said she found the topic interesting because of the way that it relates to issues with personal cyber-security.

“I decided to come because I figured the workshop could help me see which fields I could be joining in the future, especially in relation to international security,” Bessellieu said.

The workshop was sponsored by UT’s international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team, which functions mainly in the field of biological engineering, but also reaches out to the public to expose the impact of the technology in which they specialize. Marco Howard, chemistry senior and iGEM team member, described the goal of his team’s sponsorship. 

“We attempt to let everyone know of the regulations that are in place to prevent the occurrence of terroristic biosecurity threats such as anthrax or the use of weapons of mass destruction post 9/11,” Howard said. “We want people to know that they are safe.”