The word architecture carries many meanings, but in this chapter, we use it to refer to the design of an information system. An architecture for an information system is a description of the system's components (e.g., communications network[s], servers, applications, and databases) and how they interact. The description should specify the components, what they do, which components communicate, how the components communicate, and what functions and services the components provide to each other.

The idea that there should be a grand design or architecture for biosurveillance systems has gained acceptance as a result of evangelizing by two projects of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NEDSS) and Public Health Information Network (PHIN). The argument for having an architecture is quite simple: without an architecture, the situation that existed in governmental public health pre-2000—in which each health department used dozens of information systems that could not exchange data—would be impossible to resolve.

Although the importance of architecture for biosurveillance is now widely appreciated, no publications address the topic in a general way. The available information about architecture from NEDSS and PHIN (see is useful but is too fine grained and dispersed over multiple documents for most people to comprehend. Thus, our goal is to provide, in one chapter, a general discussion of architectures for biosurveillance systems.

To make the discussion as concrete as possible, we discuss architecture from the perspective of an architect—a person given the task of designing a system for a biosurveillance organization such as a state department of health. We will frequently draw on an analogy to the design of buildings. We will discuss how an architect would approach the design of two types of systems—an enterprise information system, which is an information system that is intended to support the function of a single organization, such a state department of health, and a pan-enterprise information system, which is designed to support the interoperation of many organizations. The reason that we discuss both enterprise and pan-enterprise architectures in this chapter is that the design of these systems influences the cost and effort to build, maintain, expand, and modify biosurveillance systems.

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