Instant Bioterrorism Detection

By Krause, Carolyn | Journal of Environmental Health, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Instant Bioterrorism Detection


Krause, Carolyn, Journal of Environmental Health


Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Ron Brown, director of Nashville's FlashTechnology, which manufactures, installs, and remotely monitors aviation strobe lighting on cell-phone towers, had an idea. He had read about work the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) had done for the U.S. Army in developing the Block II Chemical Biological Mass Spectrometer (CBMS) for detecting chemical and biological warfare agents. Why not put such detectors on cell-phone towers, which are located near population centers and are equipped with communication technologies?

Brown's idea found its way to Jim Kulesz in ORNL's Computational Sciences and Engineering Division. Kulesz had just proposed combining CBMS with ORNL's Hazard Prediction and Assessment Capability (HPAC) and LandScan software. If given the speed and direction of the wind, and the concentration of the threat agent, HPAC can predict where the agent will migrate and how many people nearby could be exposed unless they evacuate or take cover in safe facilities.

After hearing Brown's proposal, Kulesz conceived of SensorNet, a combination of sensor and communication technologies to be used at cell-phone towers and other national infrastructures to detect radiological, biological, and chemical threats and provide immediate threat information to emergency response command centers. These command centers could then convey timely and meaningful information to emergency responders, health care centers, and affected populations.

SensorNet has been designed to maximize participation by the government and private sectors. It will use best-in-class, commercially ready radiation detectors and sensors for chemical and biological threats, combined with the best modeling tools, such as HPAC and LandScan software, to provide threat information over a secure data network to local, regional, and national command centers. …

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