Laboratory Response Network - Celebrates 20 years of Preparedness

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Laboratory Response Network - Celebrates 20 years of Preparedness

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Teresa Miller - Chemical Threat Response Training Coordinator -  MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories

On March 20, 1995, the chemical warfare agent sarin, was released in a Tokyo subway station, impacting thousands of commuters. As a result, The United States realized there was a need to create a laboratory response system with the capacity to test thousands of people that may be exposed to lethal chemicals during a large-scale event.

Following this event, Presidential Decision Directive 39 (PDD 39), U.S. Policy on Counterterrorism was signed on June 21, 1995 by President Clinton. This directive defined the policies regarding the federal response to threats or acts of terrorism involving nuclear, biological, chemical materials or weapons of mass destruction. “We shall have the ability to respond rapidly and decisively to terrorism directed against us wherever it occurs... ensure that States' response plans are adequate, and their capabilities are tested…and The United States shall give the highest priority to developing effective capabilities to detect, prevent, defeat and manage the consequences of nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) materials or weapons used by terrorists.” (Presidential Policy Directive 39, 1995, p. 5)

In response to this directive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) formed the Laboratory Response Network or LRN in 1999, with the mission to ensure a local and national asset for laboratory response to a wide range of chemical emergencies and emerging threats. In 2003, federal funding became available to establish the Laboratory Response Network for Chemical Threats, LRN-C, to respond to chemical emergencies. Both the LRN and LRN-C provide collaborative and interconnected analytical testing abilities that enhance the national public health infrastructure and have become valuable resources for our national emergency preparedness capability.

The CDC developed many laboratory test methods for identifying exposures to chemical threat agents listed in the Chemical Weapons Convention. Development of the LRN-C was crucial to expand laboratory testing capacity and to provide substantial state and local support for a small- or large-scale response to a chemical release event.

With the support of the CDC’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness funding, city, regional, and state public health laboratories ensure national laboratory preparedness and provide readiness and expertise for local public health programs.

20 years later, the LRN-C has:

  • Fifty-four (54) laboratory members located in the U.S. and one U.S. territory;
  • Forty-four (44) laboratories can identify exposures to toxic chemical agents, such as cyanide, nerve agents, and toxic metals;
  • Ten (10) laboratories, including Michigan’s public health laboratory, which have the capacity to serve as surge laboratories for the CDC. These laboratories are able to test for high threat mustard agents, nerve agents and toxic industrial chemicals;
  • Eighty-five hundred (8500) clinical samples can be processed, tested, and reported to the CDC within a 24-hour period; and
  • Eighty-four percent (84%) of Americans live within 100 miles of an LRN-C laboratory.


Presidential Policy Directive No. 39 (June 21, 1995).  Retrieved from