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Sandia collaborates with San Francisco airport on chem/bio defenses

San Francisco International Airport unveils chem/bio defense collaboration with Sandia

Calling himself "very pleased and excited," San Francisco International Airport spokesman Mike McCarron praised "the wonderful relationship" with Sandia that has led to the first testing of chemical and biological defense at a major international airport.

Speaking at a press conference that unveiled the airport’s response capability, McCarron said, "What began as an informal conversation has evolved into a four-year working relationship. We’ve been the testbed for some of their latest and greatest technology."

Likewise, Duane Lindner (8101), deputy director for chem/bio defense programs, acknowledged the airport’s "foresight and fabulous cooperation long before Sept. 11."

Sandians from both the California and New Mexico sites are working with the airport to evaluate detection and response systems for chemical or biological attack. These, Duane said, "would allow a very early warning and quick response plan so passengers could be moved out of harm’s way or be treated" (in the event of a biological attack).

Once contamination is spotted, added McCarron, response options include evacuation or isolating air flow. Under evaluation are chemical detectors and detectors being developed to spot biological agents.

The research is an outgrowth of work with the Washington, D.C., Metro, begun in 1997 with Argonne National Laboratory, to characterize chemical detection systems in a subway setting. That sensor system is now entering operation at several stations.

The San Francisco airport work goes by the acronym PROACT, for Protective and Responsive Options for Airport Counter-Terrorism. This demonstration and application program originally began in DOE’s Chemical and Biological National Security Program and now continues under the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate.

"We believe the work will provide comprehensive insights to allow similar systems to be deployed elsewhere," said Duane. "The real learning has been in understanding how to put together systems that can be used in an end-to-end defensive capability."

The initial impetus for the Metro program was the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. "It was obvious that transportation nodes were attractive to terrorists," Duane said.

Calling the demonstration program "a huge work in progress," McCarron pointed out that the airport is also equipped to employ Sandia’s decontamination foam, marketed commercially as "Decon 200." The foam is awaiting FDA approval for decontamination of people but can be used to decontaminate facilities.

Dale Dunham, head of emergency planning at the airport, showed reporters a bus that had been customized to support decontamination operations at the airport. The unit can be used to decontaminate both facilities and up to 1,800 people an hour. Nozzles and hoses mounted on the front of the bus spray foam, then shower heads that extend from each side of the bus rinse people with warm water. At the rear, blankets, towels or ponchos are distributed.

Reporters also toured a new emergency operations center, opened in February, that is 12 times the size of the old one. Plans for that center were set in motion after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which shook up the facility and stretched capacity of the former emergency operations center.