Community of Practice Updates

Updated February 22, 2023

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Policy for Federal Access to NSSP Data

During the November 2022 CoP Monthly meeting, Acting Program Lead Karl Soetebier informed the community of efforts to make NSSP data more accessible and improve collaboration toward common goals.

In early December 2022, Soetebier updated site administrators of NSSP’s ongoing work related to data use. He explained how expanded access to NSSP data during the COVID-19 public health emergency enabled innovation in areas such as trend indicators and classification, anomaly detection, and text mining by age and geography. The ability to work this way routinely, outside the context of a public health emergency, is not permitted by the current data use agreement.

To keep community members informed throughout this process, a new Policy for Federal Access to NSSP Data web page will be available in spring 2023. It will contain information on the development and long-term benefits we hope to achieve with the new agreement, so please stay tuned.

NSSP CoP Monthly Meeting

The National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) Community of Practice (CoP) met on January 25, 2023. On average, 100 to 120 people participate in these monthly meetings. Recordings for CoP monthly calls are posted in the Knowledge Repository.

NSSP Update

Karl Soetebier, acting NSSP lead, indicated that improvements to the BioSense Platform are well underway in anticipation of a spring release.

  • Updates to the Data Quality Dashboard will include user-defined data quality alerts and other improvements.
  • Development of a synthetic syndromic surveillance data set is taking longer than anticipated but will be available soon.
  • Critical upgrades have been made to the platform infrastructure, culminating in the January 2023 database upgrades.
  • In coordination with CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), NSSP launched a public dashboard showcasing NSSP ED visit trends for diagnosed COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Data are refreshed on Wednesdays and include weekly visit counts and percentages stratified by age. Karl gave a brief demo (see call recording) and referred to the Companion Guide for background on how data from diagnosed cases are collected and for data details, considerations for interpreting data, percent of visits calculated, and definitions.

Karl closed by asking for volunteers to join a workgroup to discuss respiratory trends that will explore additional metrics and visuals for public presentation for the 2023–2024 respiratory season. The NSSP team is especially interested in working with anyone who already presents these data publicly or plans to do so. The minimal commitment would be 2 hours a month in June 2023. For those interested, please email Natasha Close at

Why create ‘demo’ data?

NSSP is creating a synthetic (demo) dataset for training and for demonstrating the BioSense Platform’s functionality. This dataset can be used without concern of publicly exposing confidential data.

Most data elements in the synthetic dataset will be hard-coded, randomly generated, or randomly selected from a list of coded values. However, a registry of actual syndromic surveillance data will be used to generate Chief Complaint, Discharge Diagnoses, Admit Reason, Age, and Sex.

The result will be logical combinations of these values that maintain the complexity that would otherwise be challenging to simulate.

Though we encourage participation, sites may opt out of this registry.

Community Highlights

Anna Frick (AK) has moved into the NSSP CoP core committee chair position. The deputy chair position remains vacant. These positions are generally filled every 2 years, so this vacancy calls for a special election. CSTE encourages nominations and will provide details on the term limits and responsibilities soon.

Subcommittee and user group leads summarized their recent activities:

  • Data Quality Subcommitttee; Co-chairs: Jade Hodge (KS), Andrew Farrey (KY), and Krystal Collier (CDC)
    The team held its 2023 introductory meeting to plan the year’s agenda. Discussion topics will include AMC updates and Washington State’s workflows for sending data quality reports to facilities.
  • Syndrome Definition Subcommittee; Co-chairs: Rasneet Kumar (Tarrant Co., TX), Rosa Ergas (MA), Zach Stein (CDC), and Sara Chronister (WA)
    Sara, the team’s newest member, is spearheading a formal process for proposing, developing, and approving syndrome definitions. To take part, please contact Sara (
  • SYS and Public Health Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery (SPHERR) Subcommittee; Co-chairs: Bill Smith (Maricopa Co., AZ) and Fatema Mamou (MI)
    Fatema Mamou reminded everyone that the meeting times have changed. The subcommittee will now meet the fourth Tuesday of the month, 2:00–3:00 PM EST. The January presentation focused on data validation of overdose ED visits. Fatema invited community members to share use case examples of emergency preparedness. She also encouraged members to share data issues, for example their experiences working with data providers, especially if related to emergency preparedness. If you’re interested in sharing use case examples or data issues, please contact Fatema at
  • Technical Subcommittee; Chair: Caleb Wiedeman (TN)
    Caleb was pleased to announce that the group has reviewed all ESSENCE enhancement service desk tickets.
  • NSSP–ESSSENCE User Group; Aaron Kite-Powell (CDC), Leif Power (JHU APL), and Travis Lim (JHU APL)
    Although a few topics will be prepared in advance, the purpose of this meeting is to answer any questions about ESSENCE. Please submit questions to the Slack channel, #r-user.
  • NSSP R User Group; Co-leads: Michael Sheppard (CDC) and Grace Goulet (Tarrant Co., TX)
    Michael recapped the group’s January call, which focused on ICD-10 coding practices, a demo of analytic methods that NSSP uses to identify revised ICD-10 codes for 2023, and integration of R python code that uses the reticulate package. Upcoming topics will include RStudio presentations, new BioSense Platform functionality for RStudio Workbench, and what users can expect with the ongoing transition from RStudio to Posit. Grace encouraged participants to suggest topics on the Slack channel.
  • Analytic Tools for Routine Health Surveillance Subcommittee NEW! Co-chairs: Michael Sheppard (CDC), Diksha Ramnani (Monterey Co., CA), Caleb Wiedeman (TN), Kacey Potis (WA), and Howard Burkom (JHU APL)
    The subcommittee was launched to enhance the use of analytic methods for health surveillance. Howard Burkom described several ways the subcommittee plans to achieve this:
    • Elicit from users what changes or new methods are needed;
    • Give users better information about when algorithms are applicable and how to interpret results;
    • Improve algorithms to find anomalies;
    • Enhance the regression algorithms (e.g., replacement of least-squares regression with Poisson regression);
    • Add climate, air quality, and demographics (like the Social Vulnerability Index);
    • Enhance spatiotemporal detection; and
    • Help users integrate new Rnssp methods into their daily routine.
  • To join this subcommittee, simply update your profile. A new Slack channel has been created for this subcommittee: #analytic-tools.

If you have questions about the NSSP CoP, its highly collaborative user groups, the NSSP CoP Slack Workspace, or syndromic surveillance, please email

JHU APL: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory


Anna Frick (AK) led a discussion to learn where people store metadata. Although the intent of metadata is to keep the Master Facility Table current, metadata are regularly used for analysis, grants, onboarding tracking, data feed issues, and other purposes. First, Anna polled attendees to identify where they track and store onboarding information—for example, in the Master Facility Table (MFT), on a spreadsheet, or on a syndromic platform. Then she polled everyone to find out how they track historic metadata issues such as platform changes, data quality issues, or feed drops: In the MFT? On a spreadsheet or document stored locally? No list?

By introducing this topic, Anna sought to understand CoP members’ preferred way of storing and using this information, and whether CoP members have found the MFT useful for tracking changes. The ensuing discussion unveiled misconceptions about how to use the MFT, who can access it, and how MFT information can help in maintaining data quality. Her presentation and attendee comments are posted in the Knowledge Repository.

mft card version 1

What is the MFT, and who has access?

The Master Facility Table (MFT) contains metadata needed by the BioSense Platform to process facility data. MFT fields are key to mapping data correctly from facility to BioSense Platform and ensuring these data are easily identifiable when queried. Each MFT is site-specific.

Not everyone has access to the MFT. Site admins may grant users access to two other roles: MFT View-only Users and MFT Edit Users. The NSSP onboarding team also has MFT access to confirm requested updates and to verify data entered by site admins and MFT Edit Users.

Some sites use the MFT to track other metadata such as the addition of new data elements, removal of data elements, or dates and reasons for why groups of facilities stopped sending data. This type of metadata may be kept with the MFT but can be kept elsewhere, like on a spreadsheet or in a local system.

FAQs about Onboarding and the MFT are posted on the NSSP website. More answers to questions about the MFT can be found in the onboarding guides: New Site Onboarding and New Facility Onboarding (Chapter 6, Section 6.5).

Reminders and Announcements

  • Call for Deputy Chair: Anna Frick has recently moved into the core committee chair position, which requires an ad hoc nomination and election for the deputy chair. Additional information on how to nominate a NSSP CoP member will be sent out soon.
  • CoP Introduces New Subcommittee: Interest in new analytic methods spurred the CoP to add a new subcommittee. The newly formed Analytic Tools for Routine Health Surveillance Subcommittee will focus on analytic methods being used for health surveillance. For details and co-chairs, see Community Highlights.
  • Join the Community and a subcommittee! Our Community is a great way to meet others working in syndromic surveillance and advance the work of syndromic surveillance at all jurisdictional levels. Become part of the Community or update your NSSP CoP membership to join a subcommittee here. Encourage others to join, too!
    • Join and participate in the Slack workspace. This space is full of rich discussion among colleagues. This is a great opportunity to collaborate with your peers outside of CoP meetings.
    • Submit success stories to be featured in NSSP Update and on the NSSP CoP website. You do great work every day that we want to highlight.
    • Submit a topic for future NSSP CoP monthly calls. These calls are meant for the community, and we want to know what is most important to you.
  • CSTE Annual Conference 2023: Meet, build relationships, and network with colleagues and experts in areas including informatics, infectious diseases, substance use, chronic disease, and injury control. Join more than 2,500 public health epidemiologists from across the nation in workshops, plenary sessions, oral breakout sessions, roundtable discussions, and poster presentations. The plan is to hold conference sessions in person; however, CSTE will monitor circumstances and public health recommendations of group gatherings.
    • June 25–29, 2023, in Salt Lake City, Utah
    • Registration is now open! An early bird discount is offered for registrations completed by 11:59 PM ET on Thursday, May 4, 2023. To register and learn more, visit the conference site.
Join the NSSP CoP Slack Workspace
Slack Channels

It’s easy to join. And the community is always exchanging ideas, exploring possibilities, and discussing topics relevant to today’s surveillance challenges.

So what are your colleagues discussing?

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  • #syndrome-definitions
  • #technical
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Find and Join Channels

  1. Hover cursor over “Channels” on left side of Slack space.
  2. Click the three dots icon that appears next to “Channels” titled “Section Options.”
  3. Select “Browse Channels.”
  4. Find and join any channel that looks interesting!