MANHATTAN (KSNT)- Top national and state leaders say maximum biocontainment and safety are top priorities, as a high-security federal disease lab opens in Manhattan, Kansas.

The National Bio Agro-defense Facility (NBAF) is a more than 500,000 square-foot, state-of-the art, bio-safety level 4 (BSL-4) lab made with steel and concrete. It’s the product of collaboration between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and city and state officials. Scientists will be tasked with studying everything from diseases threatening the nation’s livestock to some of the most dangerous animal-borne diseases with no cure.

“If we had a significant animal health outbreak, it could be catastrophic to our country,”

Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, USDA Research & Economics Under Secretary

Scientists will be expanding on their research at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. Researchers will be adding emerging and zoonotic disease programs.

Some of the additional proposed research programs, include the Nipah Virus, a deadly bat-borne disease with outbreaks in North East Africa and Southeast Asia. They’ll also be studying Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, a widespread disease caused by a tick-borne virus (Nairovirus).

Kansas Capitol Bureau asked Julie Brewer, DHS Executive Director of Innovation and Collaboration, whether there are concerns that a potential outbreak could occur with some of the more high-risk diseases.

“There’s always a risk, but what I will say is that this is the most secure biocontainment laboratory ever built in the United States,” Brewer said. “There is redundancy to redundancy and there is commitment from the staff to keep the community safe. Biocontainment has long been proven to work and protect the communities around us.”

“The real threat is the accidental or intentional introduction of one of these foreign animal diseases into the market. That’s the threat that we’re protecting against, and that’s why these laboratories are so critical to protect the very community we’re in.”

Julie Brewer, DHS Executive Director of Innovation and Collaboration

According to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, researchers will be working every day to develop solutions to mitigate the consequences of any potential biological threats.

NBAF will increase the number of field veterinarians who are trained in animal disease diagnostics. NBAF’s training facilities will provide opportunities for federal and state veterinarians to see these diseases in real-time so they can better detect suspect cases in the field. 

“Reassurance comes from the fact that people working every single day to create the vaccines… to create the ability of the surveillance… to be able to create the diagnostic lab capacity to be able to identify problems, and be able to deal with them as quickly as possible to mitigate the consequences and potentially prevent the consequences,” Vilsack said.

The lab is part of an expansion in high containment labs in the U.S., following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

For decades, Former Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, who served as chairman of the House and Senate Agriculture committees, has pushed for a biodefense facility in the state.

“We still must be prepared for a threat that could’ve been disastrous over 20 years ago, and I believe still remains... the consequences are so terribly severe… short and long-term… and that is why we have NBAF.”

Pat Roberts, Former U.S. Senator, R-Kansas

“Decades from now, people will look back and see this facility is here, changing the nature of our state and protecting and in growing the economy of our country,” said U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly also emphasized the importance of the facility in protecting the nation and its food supply.

“The work that will be done here will be critical in protecting the country and the world against biological, agricultural, and zoonotic diseases,” Kelly said.

Kansas Capitol Bureau got a rare look inside the new facility before its dedication ceremony. Click here, to learn more.