Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Biowar Boondoggle an Early-Warning System Is Mired in False Alarms

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Biowar Boondoggle an Early-Warning System Is Mired in False Alarms

Article excerpt

A report by the Government Accountability Office on the nation's $1 billion germ warfare defense network does not inspire confidence. The network of air samplers called BioWatch in cities across the country is supposed to differentiate between harmless germs and lethal pathogens that could be unleashed by terrorists.

The 100-page report released Nov. 23 says BioWatch, installed in 2003, fails miserably at its primary duty. It is more likely to register a false alert about harmless germs than detect deadly pathogens. But benign germs are everywhere, making it crucial that BioWatch is smart enough to tell the difference between them and pathogens intended to do harm.

False positives could trigger overly aggressive responses by public safety officials based on bad information. Several major public events were nearly disrupted because of false alarms by BioWatch, including the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston, the 2006 National League baseball playoffs and the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. …

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