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laboratory response network

In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established the Laboratory Response Network (LRN). The LRN’s purpose is to run a network of labs that can respond to biological and chemical threats, and other public health emergencies. The LRN has grown since its inception. It now includes state and local public health, veterinary, military, and international labs. This fact sheet provides a brief description of the LRN, and how it works.

 The LRN is a national network of more than 150 labs. The network includes the following types of labs:

  • Federal—These include labs at CDC, the US Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other facilities run by federal agencies.
  • State and local public health—These are labs run by state and local departments of health. In addition to being able to test for Category A biological agents, a few LRN public health labs are able to measure human exposure to toxic chemicals through tests on clinical specimens.
  • Military—Labs operated by the Department of Defense located both within the United States and abroad.
  • Food testing—The LRN includes FDA and USDA labs, and others that are responsible for ensuring the safety of the food supply.
  • Environmental—Includes labs that that are capable of testing water and other environmental samples.
  • Veterinary—Some LRN labs, such as those run by USDA, are responsible for animal testing. Some diseases can be shared by humans and animals, and animals often provide the first sign of disease outbreak.
  • International—The LRN has labs located in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico, and South Korea.

LRN labs are designated Level 1, 2, or 3, which identifies capabilities and defines member network participation.

  • Level 3 Labs: Work with hospitals and other first responders within their jurisdiction to maintain competency in clinical specimen collection, storage, and shipment.
  • Level 2 LabsChemists in these laboratories are trained to detect exposure to a number of toxic chemical agents. Analysis of cyanide, nerve agents, and toxic metals in human samples are examples of Level 2 activities.
  • Level 1 Labs: Serve as surge-capacity laboratories for CDC, are able to detect not only the toxic chemical agents that Level 2 laboratories can detect but also can detect exposure to an expanded number of chemicals, including mustard agents, nerve agents, and other toxic industrial chemicals. Using unique high-throughput analysis capabilities, they expand CDC’s ability to analyze large number of patient samples when responding to large-scale exposure incidents.

State lab directors determine whether public health labs in their states should be included in the network. Membership is not automatic. Prospective reference labs must have the equipment, trained personnel, properly designed facilities, and must demonstrate testing accuracy. State lab directors determine the criteria for inviting sentinel labs to join the LRN.