Science

Boston subway to be used to test sensors in fake "bioweapons" attack

Boston subway to be used to te...
The Boston Subway (Photo: DanTD)
The Boston Subway (Photo: DanTD)
View 2 Images
Bacillus subtilis (Image: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)
1/2
Bacillus subtilis (Image: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)
The Boston Subway (Photo: DanTD)
2/2
The Boston Subway (Photo: DanTD)

Over the next six months, the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate is releasing a harmless bacterium into the underground train system as part of its “Detect to Protect” program. It’s purpose isn’t to frighten commuters, but to test sensors designed to detect biological weapon attacks.

Every since the infamous Aum Shinrikyo anthrax attack in Kameido, Japan in 1993 and the anthrax attacks in the United States in the wake of 9/11, the possibility of a biological weapon being released in a densely populated area has concerned security services worldwide. Though no specific threat is currently identified against any U.S. targets, the Department of Homeland Security is developing new technology to detect and identify dangerous biological elements in real time.

Bacillus subtilis (Image: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)
Bacillus subtilis (Image: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

The suite of biosensors, developed jointly by FLir Inc., Northrop Grumman and others are designed to set off an alert if a potentially dangerous biological agent is detected. Meanwhile, other sensors would within minutes identify and confirm the specific pathogens. The current series of tests follow on from a 2009 study where inert gases were released in the Boston subway. This time, Bacillus subtilis (AKA hay bacillus or grass bacillus) will be released while the subway is closed and their spread through the system will be tracked by the new sensors.

Bacillus subtilis is a harmless “food grade” bacterium normally found in the human gut and this particular bacilli will be dead before release, though this may not be much help to those not comfortable with the idea of government-sanctioned germs on the public transport.

Source: Department of Homeland Security

4 comments
Lynne Krause
Good preventative technology
Pikeman
Anybody who is familiar with Green Run experiment at Washington State's Hanford Nuclear Reservation finds it difficult to trust the governments claims to how much and of what is being released.
http://toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Green+Run+-+Hanford
Bob Fately
Wasn't something like this done may years ago in the NYC subway system, where they released an identifiable particulate substance at Times Square and in following weeks found traces of it within 2 blocks of even the most distant stations in Brooklyn and the Bronx?
Pikeman
re; Bob Fately
Aside from the fact that it is an old study and governments always want new studies, the old study was for chemical contaminates with the assumption that biologicals would behave the same way. This has been proven to be somewhat false. This study also appears to intend to watch the spread in real time not just where it ended up and to give the sensors a real world test which might be the real reason for the test.