DHS tests new sensors in Boston subway

The Department of Homeland Security and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority resumed their testing of a network of biological sensors on October 24 in the MBTA's subway stations.

The DHS's Science and Technology Directorate scheduled the tests to measure the real-world performance of a new set of sensors developed to detect biological agents. S&T's Detect-to-Protect Bio Detection project will assess the sensors to determine how effective they are at detecting biological material.

"While there is no known threat of a biological attack on subway systems in the United States, the S&T testing will help determine whether the new sensors can quickly detect biological agents in order to trigger a public safety response as quickly as possible," Anne Hultgren, the program manager for the D2P project, said.

The sensors are made by several different companies, including Qinetiq North America, Menon and Associates, Northrop Grumman and Flir, Inc. The sensors are meant to identify and confirm the presence of biological agents within minutes.

The DHS posted a draft environmental assessment for public comment earlier in the summer to capture public comments and concerns about the project. There were no issues related to the safety of the material or test plans raised during that period, Phys.org reports.

In early August, the harmless bacillus subtilis bacterium, an organism used in farming and as a food supplement for humans and livestock, was released in the Boston subway system for an initial test. The current test in the Davis, Porter and Harvard stations will release a small amount of the killed bacterium in subway stations after they close. The testing will continue periodically over the next year, Patch reports.

The particles will quickly dissipate but not before providing important data for the DHS in the effort to prevent travelers from potential hazards.