UNLV software project to fight bioterrorism

A proposed multi-million dollar research project that will involve the University of Nevada - Las Vegas, is aimed at protecting U.S. troops while strengthening the Las Vegas Valley's defenses against bioterrorism.

The project, to develop computer software, is part of a collaboration between UNLV associate professor Chris Cochran, a member of UNLV's School of Community Health Sciences, and QinetiQ North America, a Defense Department contractor.

The three year old project, which is expected to last at least two more years, has seen $3.6 million in military spending appropriated for the project by the military.

Computer models utilized by the product to simulate the limited war zone entrances to and exits from Iraq and Afghanistan are based upon tourist tracking from Las Vegas hospitals, which see tens of millions of tourists pass through annually with only a few ways of leaving the city.

"Bio-surveillance in a Highly Mobile Population," as the software is known, “is all about the potential for more timely and targeted intervention during an outbreak or bioterror attack,” Nick CerJanic, a QinetiQ director in Las Vegas, the the LasVegasSun.com. “The financial impact, and much more importantly the human toll of a life-threatening virus or an aerosol anthrax attack, increases exponentially with time.”

The Pentagon has become involved in the project as a means of learning the source of illness outbreaks among the troops. The computer software will allow the Army to pinpoint the source of an outbreak to a particular ship, military base, battlefield location or other spot.

Additionally, the software will allow the army to guard against diseases that are accidentally spread by soldiers returning home, such as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that was first observed at the Army's Fort Riley, Kansas, base, or the 1976 swine flu outbreak at Fort Dix, New Jersey.