NYC builds out subway Wi-Fi access

DHS, NYC test biodefense detection tech in subway

To ensure chemical and biological attacks in city subway systems can be quickly detected and mitigated, the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate is partnering with MIT and a number of New York City agencies on the Chemical and Bio-Defense Testbed.

CBT tests and evaluates cost-effective technologies that can help officials detect and mitigate chemical and biological threats inside an actual subway environment. It is one of several existing testbeds in the city that help evaluate how new technologies respond to different hazards. This summer, S&T is focusing on detecting biological threats, which, unlike chemical hazards, are difficult to detect during the bacteria’s incubation period.

In a subway station, the partners have installed secured cabinets that currently contain environmental sensors, power and communication equipment -- and will soon feature biodetection sensors.

Researchers from S&T and MIT Lincoln Laboratory will not only collect and analyze data from the sensors, but also evaluate the system’s performance, analyzing false alarm rates, probability of detection, time to detection and cost of ownership data that will also support enhancements to detection and identification technologies.

Additionally, the testbed will evaluate how to mitigate airflow in a subway tunnel agitated by motion of trains to slow the spread hazardous pathogens. S&T is collecting and analyzing data on whether altering a train’s position, speed and schedule or installing filters or air curtains can limit the spread of a dangerous material.

“It is important to know as quickly as possible that you have been attacked so that appropriate countermeasures can be taken to inform the public and to distribute the medical countermeasures to protect people’s health and save lives,” S&T’s CBT Program Manager Don Bansleben said in a press statement. “Our goal is to have sensors that perform extremely well, are low cost, low maintenance,” he said.

The biodetection sensors will be installed at the testbed this summer and at other stations by the end of 2022. They will also be evaluated at the S&T Urban Threat Dispersal event to see how well they “operate by themselves and with other sensing technologies, with a goal to network together different types of sensors for a cost-effective, efficient, high-quality system,” S&T officials said.

“If we are successfully able to identify a system that detects biological hazards correctly and efficiently, we will be able to help New York City and other cities improve their security, emergency planning and readiness,” Bansleben said.

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