Preparedness, Response, and Recovery
PROCEEDINGS OF A FORUM
Prepared by Steve Olson
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street NW Washington, DC 20001
NOTICE: The subject of this publication is the forum titled Engineering for Pandemics: Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, held during the 2020 annual meeting of the National Academy of Engineering.
Opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the forum participants and not necessarily the views of the National Academy of Engineering.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-37206-0
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-37206-2
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/26093
For more information about the National Academy of Engineering, visit the NAE home page at www.nae.edu.
Copyright 2021 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Suggested citation: National Academy of Engineering. 2021. Engineering for Pandemics: Preparedness, Response, and Recovery: Proceedings of a Forum. Washington: National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/26093.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Marcia McNutt is president.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to bring the practices of engineering to advising the nation. Members are elected by their peers for extraordinary contributions to engineering. Dr. John L. Anderson is president.
The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) was established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to advise the nation on medical and health issues. Members are elected by their peers for distinguished contributions to medicine and health. Dr. Victor J. Dzau is president.
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The 2020 annual meeting of the National Academy of Engineering took place under the most unusual circumstances in the Academy’s 56-year history. In January 2020 the first few cases of a respiratory illness caused by a newly identified coronavirus were reported in the United States. By March, covid-19 had become a global pandemic. Healthcare and other workers deemed essential were pressed into service with inadequate protection, risking their health and that of their families. Businesses were disrupted, schools were shuttered, and national and local economies tanked. Governments at all levels struggled to make decisions with conflicting information and limited resources. The pandemic presented the world with its greatest challenge in decades.
As soon as the first few cases were reported, engineers began working with scientists, medical professionals, and others in the public and private sector to address needs generated by the pandemic. They brought automation, process control, and artificial intelligence to the production of protective equipment, diagnostics, and therapeutics. They established robust supply chains of critical materials. They strengthened the communication technologies and platforms that allowed people to telework and keep in touch with friends and family members. If this pandemic had occurred 20 years ago, before the telecommunications revolution that has revolutionized our lives, it would have been even more disastrous.
Because of the covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 annual meeting was held virtually. It was disappointing not to shake the hands of new members and catch up with friends and colleagues, but the virtual meeting was as informative and as provocative as our in-person events.
The two main plenary presentations, delivered by David Walt, the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard Medical School, and Pam Cheng, executive vice president of global operations and information technology for AstraZeneca, focused on the critical role of engineers in responding to the epidemic. Similarly, the annual forum, held the next day and organized by NAE executive officer Al Romig, Jr., and a distinguished organizing committee,1 was entitled “Engineering for Pandemics: Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.” For the forum, Walt and Cheng were joined by four other experts on the engineering response to the pandemic: Sabina Alkire, director of the Poverty and Human Development Initiative and associate professor of development studies at the University of Oxford; Paul McKenzie, chief operating officer at the global biotechnology company CSL Limited; William Rouse, research professor in the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University; and Daniel Work, associate professor in the departments of civil and environmental engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science at Vanderbilt University. As was the case last year, the forum was adroitly moderated by engineer, television host, and entrepreneur Deanne Bell, founder and CEO of Future Engineers, an education technology company that engages students in online contests and challenges.
The plenary and forum presentations, which are summarized in this volume, abundantly demonstrate the essential functions that engineers have performed in responding to the virus. They also reveal the lessons derived from engineering that must be absorbed to prepare effectively for future pandemics and for other disasters, expected and unexpected, that will certainly occur in the future.
Engineers create products, processes, and systems that address economic and social needs. They are accustomed to thinking in systems, and a pandemic is a system, as is society. The word engineer is not only a noun but also a verb, which means that it is action-oriented. Engineers consider themselves problem solvers and creators. It’s how we look at life.
The year 2020 was pivotal for reasons other than the pandemic. Injustices inflicted by the police on Black men and women reminded us
1 The committee members were Gilda Barabino (City College of New York), Vint Cerf (Google, Inc.), Jacqueline Chen (Sandia National Laboratories), Lili Deligianni (Columbia University; IBM, retired), Andrea Goldsmith (Stanford University), Dorota Grejner-Brzezińska (Ohio State University), Wes Harris (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Lynn Orr (Stanford University), David Roop (Dominion Energy Virginia), David Spencer (wTe Corporation), Kay Stanney (Design Interactive, Inc.), and Sharon Wood (University of Texas at Austin).
all of the continual discrimination and racism suffered over centuries by minority populations in the United States. To respond more effectively to this long history of oppression, the NAE created a committee tasked with recommending actions that the engineering community and the NAE should take to further racial justice and equity for all our citizens. The annual meeting also focused on the topic, with John Brooks Slaughter, professor of education and engineering in both the Rossier School of Education and Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, providing a special lecture on racial justice and equity in engineering. In that talk, he said, “All of us must ask ourselves, Am I doing enough to help make the discipline of engineering a just and inclusive profession? Am I making sure that my work does not add to the inequities and injustices that abide in society?”
The NAE is also continuing to work on many other societally important issues that are bound up with engineering. The new initiative NAE Perspectives, for example, offers short-form commentaries that are published on the NAE website and accessible to a wide range of audiences. The goal is to foster public engagement in technical issues of current relevance and interest to society while highlighting the role of engineering in addressing them.
In these and many other ways, the NAE is pursuing its mission to “advance the well-being of the nation by promoting a vibrant engineering profession and by marshalling the expertise and insights of eminent engineers to provide independent advice to the federal government [and society] on matters involving engineering and technology.” Never has that mission been more important.
National Academy of Engineering
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