DHS works to block underground threats

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

The next terrorist attack against America could come in the form of airborne contaminants. It’s a possibility the Department of Homeland Security is preparing for. Today, DHS begins the second phase of a study examining the release of airborne contaminants in a subway system.

Teresa Lustig, program manager for the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate told Federal News Radio the idea is to gather the needed data to figure out ways to minimize the impact of an airborne assault on the nation’s 15 subway systems and protect the nation’s infrastructure.

Following tests done in Boston over the winter, this series will help researchers to “understand seasonal variations in the air flow and the contaminant transport throughout the subway system,” said Lustig. “This will allow us to better understand and then develop countermeasures for prevention as well as a response to a chemical or biological event.”


But the findings can be used for more practical concerns, according to Lustig. “(H)owever we think the data can support (developing a response to) a routine event such as a smoke in the system or a hazardous chemical spill.”

Lustig said the data will be used to support models to be used by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for requirements for detection technologies, “response strategies and concepts of operation.”

Once the data is collected this week, researchers will be able to “validate models that simulate air flow and transport of the materials.” Then translate that into response strategies “with high confidence that the data and the model is grounded in truth” and that the response will be “very effective.”

Subways, said Lustig, “are very unique environments and they are vulnerable in the fact that they are fairly open to the public and they have very unique properties that we can leverage some of those properties to our advantage. You can not change the air flow above ground. If there is something released above ground it’s going to go wherever the wind goes, but in a subway system you can actually have some control of the air flow down there. So we can use some of that to our advantage.”