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Sensor Networks for NBC Threats 251

Posted by michael
from the reports-are-still-coming-in dept.
Nerdsville writes "Planet Analog have an article describing research into a nationwide sensor network that could provide a real-time early-warning system for chemical, biological and nuclear threats across the US. Researchers plan to use microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and nanotechnology to create accurate biological and chemical sensors. Linked in an Internet-like peer-to-peer network spanning wireless, wired and satellite links."
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Sensor Networks for NBC Threats

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  • So... (Score:1, Funny)

    by kormoc (122955)
    I have to watch when and where I fart now?

    Oops, sorry men in black...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 17, 2003 @09:32AM (#6460254)
    Like that godawful Will and Grace show?
  • P2P? (Score:3, Funny)

    by faaaz (582035) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @09:32AM (#6460257)
    A P2P network eh? Now what are the xxAA going to bash, when they can't claim P2P is evil?
  • by curtisk (191737) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @09:32AM (#6460258) Homepage Journal
    is that Friends [nbc.com] will continue for many, many years.
  • by TrekkieGod (627867) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @09:32AM (#6460260) Homepage Journal
    Nukes give out a big flash of light which will tell you when they've hit. You should then remember to duck and cover. The mushroom cloud should help to warn those outside the range of the flash.
  • I read the headline and thought, "Hmmm... So they're going to sensor CBS and ABC for threats against NBC. Or maybe they'll be sensoring NBC for threats against the others."
  • Wow. CBS and ABC are gonna be all over this one...
  • If it could warn us when NBC is about to put on one of its cheesy shows it would be worth it.
  • NBC? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by binaryDigit (557647) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @09:34AM (#6460275)
    a real-time early-warning system for chemical, biological and nuclear threats

    Next time they should order the words the same as in the acronym (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) so those of us who are not terrorism experts can stop wondering why the peacock network poses such a threat to our well being.
  • I'd like a sensor that sniffs the RIAA and update me via MSN!!
    -
  • by slackr (228760)
    Must-See threats!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    it doesn't work. it's more of a powerpoint idea. best and worst thing about government work.. you don't ever have to do anything.
  • It seems to me that a terrorist could use this system to cause panic without ever using the agents on a large scale. They could just get some agents to deploy a very small amount at different sensors they identified throughout a metro area and that would cause enough panic to disrupt what they want to disrupt.
    How do they plan on concealing this?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 17, 2003 @10:05AM (#6460439)
      I enlisted in the U.S. Army just before the 1st Gulf War and because of that had to go through more NBC training than most recruits. We learned how to donn our protective gear, decontaminate ourselves (including how to decontaminate your buddie's ass after he uses the latrine), and give ourselves injections against neurotoxins. But, privately, the Sergeants doing the training would tell you that NBC weapons are like lightning. You're either hit or you're not, and there's not a whole helluva lot you can do if you are, except kiss your ass goodbye. If you're going into an area that's been affected, then your MOPP gear does some good. Otherwise, they said, it's mostly there to give you courage and keep you from sneaking out the back way. And that's what this news is about. If you hear the sirens go off, you're okay. If you don't hear the sirens go off, you're either okay, or you're dead. So the information doesn't do you much good. It doesn't do the civil authorities a lot of good either. When the dead people start piling up and nobody can get anybody to answer a phone in NYC, it will eventually dawn on people what happened. Like so much post-911 action, this is like a doctor giving you a placebo to hide the fact that he either doesn't have a clue what's wrong or that he knows but can't fix it and doesn't want to fess up. Or maybe he's worried that you'll think the cure is worse than the disease.
    • ... is to spread terror. I think you are right, it could be used to spread terror and fear, which is exactly the object of terrorism (as I see it)...
  • by dorfsmay (566262) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @09:45AM (#6460326) Homepage
    Terrorist will use use something else that governments aren't looking for. For example the US was ready for an invasion by planes missiles etc... but on Sept. 11, the terrorists used something nobody expected.

    I think the different governments should spend more money on trying to understand the causes of terrorism, and try to eliminate it at the source (which one could argue they already do with the war on terrorism).

    You'll notice the article only mentions airborne threat... What about water ?

    • It was planned for (Score:5, Informative)

      by greenrd (47933) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @11:01AM (#6461083) Homepage
      For example the US was ready for an invasion by planes missiles etc... but on Sept. 11, the terrorists used something nobody expected.

      False.

      Sept. 11, 2001 - The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the federal agency that runs many of the nation's spy satellites, schedules an exercise involving a plane crashing into one of the agency's buildings. "On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001," according to a website advertising a homeland security conference in Chicago run by the National Law Enforcement and Security Institute, CIA official John Fulton and his team "were running a pre-planned simulation to explore the emergency response issues that would be created if a plane were to strike a building. Little did they know that the scenario would come true in a dramatic way." Fulton is the head of the NRO's strategic gaming division.
      From Oh Lucy! - You Gotta Lotta 'Splainin To Do [fromthewilderness.com] by From the Wilderness

      ""We couldn't possibly have known this."

      "We didn't know that airlines are subject to this kind of attack."

      It's almost one year after the attack on America and we know that these kinds of statements had been a lie.

      The CIA and FBI were warned by at least eight secret services and had thirty to forty indices about a possible attack with planes. The FAA had sent out five warnings to the airports about possible hijacks or similar incidents.

      On August 6, 2001 the CIA delivered a memo to George Bush about a terrorist attack. On August 23 the FBI released an "urgent cable".

      But the most damning evidence that something was known was the enactment of at least eight to ten bio- or regular terrorist exercises during 2000 and 2001.

      The last big one took place in June 2001 and another CIA exercise was confirmed for the day of September 11th!

      From http://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/AVE_STE.html

      It is beyond dispute now that Bush lied when he said the government had no idea this could happen. They had plenty of idea. This kind of idea had been speculated about for years.

      • CIA official John Fulton and his team "were running a pre-planned simulation to explore the emergency response issues that would be created if a plane were to strike a building.

        I'd rather think that Ossama was a strategic master than someone taking all his ideas from the CIA. Some people just take the fun out of everything.

      • You guys are missing the most damning evidence of all: In 1994, a group of islamic terrorists tried the exact same stunt by attempting to crash an Air France 747 into the eiffel tower! They were only stopped because the pilot managed to persuade them that it was neccesary to stop for fuel, and the plane was stormed on the ground.

        More info. [google.com]
        • Actually, I think I can top that. When Bush visited Italy for the G8 meeting in summer 2001 (scene of the Genoa protests), the possibility of planes being used as terrorist weapons was mooted [latimes.com], and the airspace over Genoa was closed and anti-aircraft guns were put in place.

          And yet they expect us to believe that before September 11, no aerial defenses were in place to protect the Pentagon and the White House?

    • I think the different governments should spend more money on trying to understand the causes of terrorism, and try to eliminate it at the source (which one could argue they already do with the war on terrorism).

      For 400 BILLION dollars, the U.S. could probably simply buy the countries in question, send all the suplus corn in Iowa, beef from Texas, pork/chicken from North Carolina, and water from the Coors factory to them (being sensitive to religious preferences, of course), and see how many "terrorists"
      • and see how many "terrorists" suddenly develop stupid grins on their faces and quiet down.

        Good idea. We could all then sit back and wait for these people to notice that they were just given a short term solution that doesn't help solve the problem (in the long term).

        And if this solution was kept going we could all sit back and wait until some bright spark has the idea of charging these people for the goods (at a cheap price) on the condition that they not build their own farms and what not.

        Oh wait!
    • In fact, preparation for an attack on US soil is wasted effort, in any case, because nobody's going to try that again for a while.

      The goal of Al Queda is to get the US out of the middle east, both the US government and US corporate interests. Bin Laden is sufficiently clever to realize that the way to do this is to make it troublesome and dangerous for the US to be in the middle east. Thus, the attack on the USS Cole (making it clear that it's somewhat dangerous to refuel at some otherwise desireable ports
    • No kidding. They'll probably use Water Striders [suntimes.com].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 17, 2003 @09:46AM (#6460329)
    CBRN

    Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear.

    From the let's-not-make-up-a-new-acronym-and-forget-what-it -really-means-afterwards department, aka the LNMUANAAFWIRMA dept.
  • I can see it now: the 10 o'clock news reports that we've had the 3rd false nuclear threat, as sensors read a 69.69% jump in radiation levels at 4:20 this afternoon.... yeah, right!
  • by Christianfreak (100697) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @09:51AM (#6460357) Homepage Journal
    When I first saw this I thought it might having something to do with protecting us from more Reality shows ....

    Maybe not.
  • by Flamed to a Crisp (688872) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @09:52AM (#6460361)

    For some reason, I read the title as Censor NBC Networks for Threat

    Like you wanted us to censor the NBC TV network and then blackmail them or something.

  • by Anonymous MadCoe (613739) <maakiee@NoSpam.yahoo.com> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @09:56AM (#6460387) Homepage
    From what I've learned a long time ago in the army one of the biggest issues with NBC is that even if you get an alert in a lot of cases you're just in time to let people know they should have put on their suit and masks allready.

    So I wonder what a network like that could contribute.

    (I say I'm wondering, not that it can't be done... Any suggestions?).
    • by Thng (457255)
      It may be too slow to save people from immediate exposure, but at least in the case of biologicals, it could act as a warning to contain the contamination and prevent further exposure, possibly same with radiological weapons.

      As a side note, my gf is working with a grad student who is trying to engineer an ornamental plant to be placed in public areas that will turn color when it's been exposed to various biological agents.

      • I get that, could/should be a usefull thing. But then I wonder is this an EARLY warning system, or just a warning system?
      • As a side note, my gf is working with a grad student who is trying to engineer an ornamental plant to be placed in public areas that will turn color when it's been exposed to various biological agents.

        That is actually a really creative use of genetic engineering. Good job, Mr./Ms. grad student!
  • Paranoia (Score:1, Interesting)

    by lovebyte (81275) *
    Where will American paranoia stop?
    Probably when government funding will.
  • Poor sensors (Score:5, Interesting)

    by noah_fense (593142) <noahtheman AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @09:59AM (#6460404)

    I can see it now: thousands of people fleeing the subway when a sensor trips because someone lit up a cigarette underneath one. Now every ignores it when a real NBC attack comes around, just like the tsunami early warning systems in the pacific.

    This IS a gov't project, and this one is only getting funding because of people who watch the news too much and are becoming exactly what terrorists want: afraid.

    Also, politicians are aching to to jump on the "spend money on homeland security" bandwagon. 2004 is just around the corner . . .

    -n
    • by siskbc (598067) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @10:57AM (#6461022) Homepage
      I can see it now: thousands of people fleeing the subway when a sensor trips because someone lit up a cigarette underneath one. Now every ignores it when a real NBC attack comes around, just like the tsunami early warning systems in the pacific.

      Two things - first, a decent sensor device made to detect specific things (like sarin, soman, etc, which are all chemically similar) won't be tripping on a cigarette. Pattern won't match.

      Second, that's the advantage of having a network - in addition to spacial information, you get redundancy. If there are a few sensors in the area, they can back each other up.

      Sensor networks like these are getting better all the time. Unfortunately, too often the scientists/engineers making them spend too much time creating the device and not enough time on the back-end signal processing that provides error correction and greater accuracy, not to mention false-positive protection.

      Put it this way - if I made a sensor network, it would not confuse a cigarette for a threat. And hopefully, the people making this one work similarly.

      Also, I was interested by something in the article:

      The goal for all the government efforts, perhaps three to five years out, is to deploy a highly accurate yet low-cost network of sensors "that in a couple of minutes could tell you if an agent is present, in what concentration and something about the agent. But the technology for that doesn't really exist yet."

      Yes it does. We can do it now. :P So it remains to be seen whether what is deployed is really state-of-the-art (or even state of 5 years ago, really).

      • by twitter (104583)
        Two things - first, a decent sensor device made to detect specific things (like sarin, soman, etc, which are all chemically similar) won't be tripping on a cigarette. Pattern won't match.

        So what does your system make of mass food poisioning from a popular Taco Bell bad bean batch in Manhatan? Would airborn botulism trigger anything? It would be a bad day to ride the subway, but an evacuation might be overkill.

        • by siskbc (598067)
          So what does your system make of mass food poisioning from a popular Taco Bell bad bean batch in Manhatan? Would airborn botulism trigger anything? It would be a bad day to ride the subway, but an evacuation might be overkill.

          What are you talking about? I work on chemical, not bio, but botulism can be detected, I believe, and has a rather unique signature. If the concentration is high enough it might be dangerous. Either way it probably won't look like a cigarette.

          If it was my system, all I could do is


      • Two things - first, a decent sensor device made to detect specific things (like sarin, soman, etc, which are all chemically similar) won't be tripping on a cigarette. Pattern won't match.

        Second, that's the advantage of having a network - in addition to spacial information, you get redundancy. If there are a few sensors in the area, they can back each other up.


        Well, gee. That sounds an awful lot like what the CIA tried during the vietnam war: they set up an extensive network of fairly sophisticated senso
        • Well, gee. That sounds an awful lot like what the CIA tried during the vietnam war: they set up an extensive network of fairly sophisticated sensors designed to figure out VC troop movements through the jungle. What did the VC do? they went through the jungles hanging buckets of piss on trees. These buckets produced enough odour to trip the chemical sensors and the entire multi-million dollar network was rendered useless.

          Good point, but I would say that the state-of-the-art is a damn sight better that 70's

    • I can see it now: thousands of people fleeing the subway when a sensor trips because someone lit up a cigarette underneath one.

      Well, so far the radiation detectors in the New York subway system haven't caught any terrorists, but they do ensure that individuals receiving certain types of radiotherapy are being regularly strip-searched [about.com]. As far as I know, the system isn't causing mass panic, just acute embarrassment.

  • i keep hearing about stuff like this since 9/11. has anyone actually seen some interesting new sensors, or is it all hype ?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Would it kill you to explain an abbreviation that most people are unfamiliar with?

    That reminds me of the "GSW" (Gun Shot Wound) that doctors use. Guess which one takes longer to say (more syllables)?

    Stop clinging to acronyms as esoteric bravado.
  • a nationwide sensor network that could provide a real-time early-warning system for chemical, biological and nuclear threats across the US.

    How much is it going to cost? How many attacks have there been in the US since 9/11? None. Nada. Zip.

    While the Federal government spends billions of dollars on anti-terrorism, homeland security, tax-cuts-for-the-rich (TM) and un-necessary wars, ordinary people are losing their jobs, have no decent health care and are suffering for inadequate funding of schools. Thi

  • No wonder there are so many responses that are joking about the NBC television network. What does NBC mean here? I thought I knew acronyms, but not this one.

    While NBC is in the title, it is not in the story description, nor is it in the actual article. I'm guessing it is Nuclear something, but I do not know.
  • Right (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Sure, create a lot of warning systems and defence systems. Everyone feels safe.

    Than continue with stupid foreign policy.

    Everybody happy, including the no-brainers in politics.
  • Letterman used to give the NBC sensors fits.

    I mean, he'd carry in nuclear, bilogical, and chemical weapons in to the studio in his pants every day. When the pants came off, the sensors went wild.

    Now, of course he causes problems with the CBS sensors. His Cardiac Bypass Shunt cause all kinds of problems.

    Aren't acronyms fun?

  • ...NBC are innofensive compared to MSNBC!
  • Terrorists, terrorists everywhere! Relax and wise up.

    Read this [sightm1911.com] and use your common sense and don't panic.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @10:18AM (#6460547) Homepage

    As September 11 2000 showed us, the most effective way of killing people is large and obvious amounts of energy (kinetic, potential, chemical). The NBC available to terrorists - dirty rather than fission, agents that can effect only a small area and number of people - are minor in comparison. Their primary effect is to create panic out of proportion to the actual effect.

    Sure, release Sarin in a subway station, you'll kill some people. But have a detector that screams "Sarin attack! Sarin attack!" and you'll kill just as many, perhaps more, in the stampede to get out.

    And if it turns out that the sensor was triggered by a new type of cologne? Well, we've just done the terrorists' job for them.

    As a further thought, how do you field test these things? Test them in the lab with real agents, sure. Test them in the field with harmless agents that produce the same effect (and hope that nobody finds out what those are), but how do you know with any confidence that you can actually detect a genuine attack in the field? False positives in a military situation aren't so bad - all that will happen is that the grunts will turn on the overpressure systems or put on their NBC suits, but in a civilian situation? We've seen what happens when large numbers of people panic in a small area. Deploying these in cities seems to me like a big gamble to take, for little potential reward, when the costs of false positives are so high.

    I'm not suggesting that we do nothing, but I am suggesting that reaction (which includes "preemptive strikes" against people that already hate us) isn't the way to go. Perhaps we could devote some of this energy to dealing with the causes of terrorism rather than the symptoms.

  • I hope these devices aren't just sitting out on the internet, but that the government sets up a seperate secure network for all the sensors.

    The last thing we need is some [dipshit|terrorist|*] cracking the network and causing mayhem by tricking the system into thinking there are attacks all over the place.
  • by nicodemus05 (688301) <nicodemus05@hotmail.com> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @10:30AM (#6460649)
    in Tennessee, meanwhile, a team of researchers has been working for 18 months on an underlying network architecture for a national sensor network.

    I work at the Labs [ornl.gov], right down the hall from these guys. I play soccer with a man named Panos Datskos [ornl.gov]. He recently finished building a cantilever based electronic nose [eetimes.com] that has the potential to detect a single molecule. Datskos is working on a "universal" sensor that shares many of the same processes of a gas chromatograph to identify any substance. As described in the article, it uses very basic technology (a CD laser). It's also very compact, the size and shape of a discman. The coolest thing about the technology is that it functions in the ambient environment. It does not, like most laboratory equipment, require a vacuum, extreme temperatures, or special shock absorbance to reduce vibration. This is the kind of device that they'll be deploying to airports, I believe.

    • a cantilever based electronic nose that has the potential to detect a single molecule.
      That's fine, but can it do the job as well as a dog's nose? A book I read about working dogs (drug, arson, etc) was saying that a dog can detect, at a distance, concentrations of a part-per-trillion that electronic detectors are unable to detect at the source.
  • Based on this story [slashdot.org]
    right here, this would be illegal since its P2P.

    Jerks.
  • I found some photos [spiritualityhealth.com] of the devices.
  • Stupid (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JahToasted (517101) <toastafari.yahoo@com> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @11:01AM (#6461089) Homepage
    Its just a PR gimmick so the politicians can say "Look we are doing something". A terrorist will never attack in a way that is unexpected.

    You want to know what the next terrorist will be like? Read up about the DC sniper case a few months back. Now imagine 20 snipers armed with rifles, and RPGs fanning out accross the nation. Yeah, eventually they'll be found and shot (martyred), but the terror it would cause both before and after (how do you know there aren't more?) would be immeasurable. How can you prevent it from happening? Well you can't, but that won't stop your leaders from turning the US into a police state because of it.

    • I have often thought of what could be next as well. How about blowing up *regular* apartment buildings or houses? Impossible to defend against - yet just a couple would scare the jeebies out of most of the nation. We insist on "protecting" dams and nuclear facilities - but ignore where people actually *are*.

      Here in Oregon we had a 90+ year old run over a family on a sidewalk. With that and the Santa Monica market - maybe Al Quaida has recruited our seniors and trained them to be an elite terrorist
  • Researchers plan to use microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and nanotechnology to create accurate biological and chemical sensors. Linked in an Internet-like peer-to-peer network spanning wireless, wired and satellite links.

    Sadly, though. If ever we are attacked the first thing that will happen is that the creators of these "P2P networks" will be sent to jail as these nanobots illegally load data to the P2P networks.

    "Wired news has an article about a new bill that would make it a felony to upload a
  • Does this strike anyone else as "Skynet" in the making?
  • by suwain_2 (260792) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @01:11PM (#6462721) Journal
    Affiliate "Networks" and "NBC," and read "Sensor" as "Censor," assuming that the government was trying to censor networks like NBC? (And was anyone else... not surprised?)
  • Linked in an Internet-like peer-to-peer network spanning wireless, wired and satellite links.

    So, would the feds' use of this network violate the new Conyers-Berman anti-P2P bill [slashdot.org]?

  • I am surprised that the CIA, FBI, NSA and SPCA always get upset about NBC weapons. Why should a terrorist who is intent on killing huge amounts of people always have to think like a second rate hollywood scriptwriter? 19 Highjackers killled many people with box cutters, some flight training and a good portion of fanaticism. Timothy McVeigh killed more than a hundred people with a truckload of fertiliser, some easily available bomb manuals and training provided by your friendly US Army, incidentaly putting h
  • What always amuses me about these fearmongering projects is that they're useless, and demonstrably so to the point of having been demonstrated.

    One: these projects won't save lives; if the poison's been deployed, the 'early warning' isn't going to save those in the line of fir^H^H^H the mist. And as soon as those people drop, the authorities will have a clue something's up.

    Two: bacteriological and chemical attacks are notoriously ineffective. The gas attacks in WWI show this, as do the acts of that cult in
  • How about a bell that rings any time one of our corporations, or their subsidiary government agencies, gives somebody one more reason to hate the US?

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