Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, the U.S. national-defense strategy has been to fight enemy forces overseas. Today, the nation’s first responders – EMS technicians, firemen, policemen, and other law-enforcement personnel – have joined the members of the armed services on the front lines. But their primary mission is to defend the U.S. homeland, and American citizens, from attacks by terrorists – particularly attacks involving the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). It is possible that terrorists would gain possession of one or more nuclear weapons and find some way of launching them – against Chicago, perhaps, or New York City, or Washington, D.C. But that scenario is unlikely, according to most defense experts.
What is much more probable, as the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and, within the United States itself, the destruction of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City proved, are attacks involving chemical and/or biological WMDs. It is for that reason that many U.S. companies (and their counterparts overseas) are working to develop, build, test, and produce systems that can be used to detect the presence of CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiation, nuclear, explosive) agents or materials of any type. This Special Report on detection systems takes a brief look at six of the companies – Bruker Daltonics, Canberra Industries Inc.,aho Technology Inc., PROENGIN Inc., RAE Systems, and Smiths Detection – now working on the leading edge of CBRNE detection technology.
The report focuses not on the companies’ product lines but on the concepts of operation and corporate strategies they have adopted to build systems that are easy to use and easy to deploy, multifunctional but at the same time simple to operate and maintain, and, above all, not only operationally effective but also cost-effective as well. Here it is worth noting that almost all of the company spokesmen and technical experts interviewed in the preparation of this report emphasized several “guiding principles” that government officials and/or private-sector decision makers should keep in mind when evaluating the capabilities of the numerous types of detection equipment of various types now available or in the test-and-evaluation stage. The first and most important of those principles is that “Quality counts.” As one official put it, the most significant factor that will determine how effective a specific system will be is not “how much the detector costs, but the quality of the science behind it.”
Among several other guiding principles frequently mentioned are the following: (1) Systems that provide “multiple paths to the answer” and permit the integration of data received from several sources are preferable to simpler and perhaps lower-cost systems that may be less complex but also would be less useful. (2) The best new technology coming into the market allows first-responder agencies, and individual users, to do more with less – and “more” in that context represents significant savings in itself. (3) Companies and agencies alike should not expect to make the best and most cost-effective decisions without input from knowledgeable and experienced professionals who are able to put all of the technical, operational, training, budgetary, and other factors involved into a usable context.
A Focus on Connectivity, Mobility
Canberra Industries, for example, offers several radiation-detection options for first-responder and
facility-monitoring operations. Connectivity has been added to the company’s familiar UltraRadiac™ personal-dosimeter system; that change allows the pager-sized device to transmit data – including GPS (Global Positioning System) location information – to a laptop-based RADACS (Radiation Assessment Display and Control System) unit. The same data is displayed on the user’s own GIS (Geographic Information System) maps, giving the command post the real-time data on radiation levels needed. The company also offers a wide range of products, according to Canberra’s Bud Sielaff, for follow-up response. Those products include, but are not necessarily limited to, survey kits for surface measurements; rapid-deployment portal monitors for contamination control; and radionuclide identification devices (which are used to characterize the extent of any contamination that might be detected).
Canberra’s MOVERS – the name stands for Mobile Vehicle-based Emergency Radiation System – is a vehicle-mounted radiation detection system that provides not only additional detection capabilities but also, as its name indicates, mobility as well. MOVERS is capable of detecting alpha, beta, gamma, and neutron radiation. Canberra also builds a line of person- and vehicle-sized portal detectors. “Radiation detection for vehicles and people is not new,” as Sielaff notes. “It has been used for years in nuclear and industrial facilities.” What is new, particularly since 9-11, he points out, “is the use of these devices in border-screening applications – where you have large numbers of measurements, and you must clear everyone in some way to facilitate the free movement of commerce and people. In this environment, ‘nuisance alarms’ caused by innocent industrial or medical materials can create major bottlenecks.” Making the screening process more efficient – and, of greater importance, more effective-is one of the company’s principal research and development goals.
Safety and Interoperability Stressed
At the heart of the RAE Systems line of detectors is interoperability. The new-generation RAELink2 radio-modems not only connect RAE-brand instruments to the AreaRAE laptop base station, providing live data to the command post, but also bring non-RAE detectors into the communications loop. With the addition of the Life Shirt® (built by Viva-metrics), RAELink2 adds the responder’s own vital signs to the data stream. “With over 500 AreaRAE base stations on the ground,” company spokesman Robert Durstenfeld said, this improvement in connectivity not only makes the AreaRAE station “one to watch,” but also provides “the best way to watch it.” RAE’s radiation detection system, RAEWatch Defender, “is not just about ports,” according to Durstenfeld, “it’s about protecting the urban area … creating a tight net that you can weave around any target as well as a point of entry.”
RAE is proud of the company’s track record of providing radiation detection instruments that are intrinsically safe, he points out, because “first responders can’t be sure” of what they will find when they arrive at the scene of a major disaster. The company’s PlumeRAE system receives a weather feed directly from an integrated weather station included in the package, and provides helpful guidance to the system’s users. However, unlike many other laptop-based plume modeling systems, it “takes topography into account” – in other words, it compensates for the hills and valleys and other topographic features in the area that might affect the readings. When asked about these various changes and improvements, Durstenfeld commented simply that the company “listened to our customers and looked at the marketplace, and brought what was needed to those customers.”
24/7 Availability for PhD-Level Support
Smiths Detection is “about” two things, the orthogonal approach and service to the end user. Smiths’ Robert Bohn explains that “the orthogonal approach is bringing complementary technology together to reveal the unknown.” In other words, Smiths approach is to determine the identification of an unknown product/agent by attacking it from several directions at the same time “to increase the confidence in the answer and improve accuracy.” One product example is the Smiths Detection infrared mass spectrometer, HazMatID™ – which looks at the problem of identification one way, while the company’s RespondeR RCI™ chemical detector is looking at it from another perspective. The HazMatID™ is fitted with a built-in computer with wireless connectivity that receives the RespondeR RCI’s™ data and integrates it with its own.
The company’s website proclaims that Smiths Detection “provides assistance 24 hours, 7 days a week, with the identification of compounds as well as support on system operation and trouble shooting.” However, although Smiths Detection does provide simple computer tech support (e.g., “Where does the green wire plug in?”) its reach back is much more comprehensive and offers, for example, what might be called PhD-level support on how to interpret the data received and obtain the most effective results on each response from the technology available.
Bohn sums up the company’s philosophy as follows: “We are selling a product that we know people are using to make decisions that affect many lives … so we work to bring a multi-technology package that can do the checks and balances for the operator by allowing the system to do the integration. … This [approach] decreases [the number of] false negatives and false positives.”
Portability and Safety-Act Certification
Bruker Daltonics’ Frank Thibodeau describes the company’s RAID-XP system as “combining the best chemical-detection technology from the RAID-M with our experience in radiation detection into one platform” (which is capable of detecting not only radiation but also hazardous industrial chemicals and chemical weapons agents). A portable device, the RAID-XP adds flexibility by running off either rechargeable lithium ion batteries or wall power. In addition, it is Ethernet-ready and can therefore be used as part of a larger network of devices set up for site monitoring. The RAID-XP is based on the RAID-M – which, as Thibodeau points out, “is the only chemical detector to be SAFETY Act-certified.” The reference here is to the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002, which grants certain protections to the manufacturer – but only after a rigorous approval process.
The RAPID, another Bruker-built system, is a breed apart from traditional detection technology because it uses, rather than air sampling, the infrared light from a cloud of chemical vapor or gas to identify the product or agent being analyzed. By networking several RAPIDs together, operators can use triangulation to add a third dimension, depth, to their previous two-dimension (width and height) models. The RAPID system, which detects both hazardous industrial chemicals and chemical-warfare agents up to five kilometers away, can be either tripod- or vehicle-mounted.
Complex Training Scenarios for Real-Life Situations
PROENGIN Inc.’s AP2C detection system uses mass spectrometry to determine the presence of certain key elements of various chemical-warfare agents at the scene of an accident or incident. The company’s Mark Reuther explains that nerve agents usually are about 20 percent phosphorus. Through the careful use of that key information, he says, “We will never get a false positive for a nerve agent, since our system relies on detection of high levels of this element.”
Another PROENGIN system, the AP4C, uses previously proven technology to combine – in a single device – the detection of chemical-warfare agents and/or hazardous industrial chemicals. This “two-in-one” detection capability doubles effectiveness without increasing the system’s weight. Building and testing system technology is not sufficient in itself, the company realizes. Full effectiveness also requires the safe and careful training of system operators. For that purpose, the company offers a wireless AP2C simulator that allows an instructor to control the displays of as many as eight AP2Cs in real time. That capability means, as Reuther points out, that the individual trainee “doesn’t have an instructor standing over his or her shoulder.”
In some carefully monitored exercises, trainees are put into a variety of difficult situations “blind to the scenario.” PROENGIN adopted this approach, Reuther said, because, “unlike other chemicals that can be simulated with relatively pleasant materials such as menthol and Dial’s Right Guard® deodorant, the only surrogate for G [nerve & blister] agent is malathion … which would not be as welcome when training indoors.”
Use of the PROENGIN simulator frees the end user both from having to maintain a store of surrogate chemicals and from the necessity of finding (or building and maintaining) a training area that might become contaminated from the chemicals used in the training exercises. The AP2C simulator is fitted with a two-way radio system and thus can monitor an AP2C in the field during actual use or, during a simulation, through use of a surrogate. In Reuther’s words, the company is “always looking for a better way to do something. … We are the guys on the outside of the fence saying ‘hey, take a look at our new way of inventing the wheel.’”
Quick and Accurate On-Site Capabilities
Idaho Technology Inc. offers laboratory technology that has been especially hardened for field use. Thanks to the company’s extensive Department of Defense experience, it usually is able to carry out initial biological sample testing right at the scene of a disaster incident. In August of this year, when Idaho Technology’s RAZOR bio-detection system was certified under the SAFETY Act, the certification application described the system as “a field-hardened, hand-held, battery-operated, Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) device for identifying biological warfare agents.”
Another, more user-oriented, description provided by company spokesman Todd Ritter reads as follows on the Idaho Technology website: “The RAZOR is an innovative system that allows our customers to test for dangerous pathogens at the incident site and do so very accurately and quickly. This certification shows that our company’s commitment to our customers is based on cutting-edge science and real-world visibility.”
The R.A.P.I.D.* (Ruggedized Advanced Pathogen identification Device) is a field-hardened rapid thermocycler, with concurrent fluorescence-monitoring capabilities, that is used to automatically analyze samples to determine the presence of any DNA sequence that might indicate the use of a biological agent. One of the more consistent principles used in almost all testing situations, regardless of the hazard being tested for, is that the test managers as well as the test systems should try to determine identification “from more than one angle.” This principle is constantly emphasized at Idaho Technology – where, as one company official said, “You cannot only look at it [the product or agent being tested] from both sides, but you also look at it through a lens of real laboratory quality.”
Martin D. Masiuk
Martin (Marty) Masiuk is president and founder of International Media Representatives Inc. (IMR Group Inc.), which was established in 1986 as an American-based media representation firm for overseas, aerospace, and defense publications. In 1998, under the IMR Group, he established DomesticPreparedness.com, which has evolved into a highly trusted, and important information service for the multi-disclipline, multi-jurisdiction preparedness community. In 2014, he transitioned the DomPrep40 into the Preparedness Leadership Council to lessen the burden on and increase the effectiveness of operational preparedness professionals and help policy professionals make better-informed decisions. Prior to IMR Group, he served as an account representative for McGraw Hill’s Business Week and Aviation Week & Space Technology publications.