I drive past an imposing, razor-wire fence that encloses Ft. Detrick, and as I pull up to the main gates at the military base for our special Undercover Hour, I wonder if this might be one of the coolest things I’ve ever done for the show … or one of the craziest. I’m about to visit our nation’s main bio-defense laboratory – a place so highly classified and secure that no media cameras have ever been allowed in. Until now.
I’d been invited by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Science and Technology to bring our crew for an exclusive up close and personal look at its brand new state-of-the-art facility called the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, known as NBACC. The NBACC will soon be home to some of the planet’s deadliest germs and viruses that can be used in bioterror attacks. I’m not sure what I’ll encounter once I make it past all the gates, guns and guards to gain entrance to the labs.
My guide through NBACC is almost as impressive as the bio-lab fortress he oversees. J. Patrick Fitch, Ph.D, or Pat as he prefers to be called, is the director of the laboratory and the ultimate scientist’s scientist. Dr. Pat Fitch’s expertise ranges from engineering to biotechnology to bio-defense: he’s chaired prestigious blue-ribbon health and science advisory panels; he’s a medical device inventor; an award-winning academic author and journal editor; and he has 20 years of experience as a CEO-level lab administrator. Dr. Fitch was a major force behind the development of BioWatch, the Department of Homeland Security’s system of automated sensors installed in cities throughout the country to detect unwelcome pathogens in the air. At 6’7”, the former college hoops star is used to taking on tough opponents. He describes for me – plain and simple – who our new enemy is.