DHS to crowd source chemical attacks through cell phones

The Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate has begun a program to equip cell phones with a chemical sensor that will be cost effective and not impact a phone's battery life.

The initiative, dubbed Cell-All, would alert a user to a threat in the atmosphere such as a gas leak with a warning sound, vibration, text message or phone call. For a larger threat such as a sarin gas attack, the phone would send an emergency operations center details, including what the threat is, where it happened and at what time.

Cell-All works by eliminating human error as it delivers its information digitally. By gathering information from many people at one single location, be it a mall, stadium or school, the system eliminates false positive readings, allowing emergency responders to arrive at the scene faster and to cover a larger area upon arrival.

The program will work as an opt-in program, which allows those who wish to not take part to abstain. Cell-All also transmits its data anonymously.

“Privacy is as important as technology,” Stephen Dennis, Cell-All's program manager, told DHS.gov. “After all, for Cell-All to succeed, people must be comfortable enough to turn it on in the first place.”

The commercialization of Cell-All is expected to take several years, though experts believe the program could eventually be viable.