Skip to Content

Terror Net

December 1, 2004

Ever since the September 11 terrorist attacks, federal agencies have been wishing for a system capable of issuing a nationwide alert at the first sign of a chemical, biological, or radiological attack. Now such a system is undergoing trials in Tennessee.

Developed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the new system consists of sensor packages attached to structures such as cell-phone towers. The packages will include detectors for airborne chemicals and radioisotopes, and for weather changes. The intent of the system – which is being tested in Knoxville, Nashville, and other locations – is to detect plumes of contaminants, predict their spread, and quickly alert command centers. In a 2002 test, prototype sensors successfully detected discharges of simulated sarin gas in three cities 140 to 270 kilometers apart and dispatched pertinent data in less than two minutes. The current trial will test the system on an even larger scale.

The Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and other organizations are sharing the cost of developing the system; at least $12 million has been assigned to it for the coming year. “At this point, we are not deployed nationwide, but we’ve demonstrated the scalability of the technology,” says Jim Kulesz, special-projects manager at Oak Ridge. Observers say the technology, while promising, is not a panacea. If fully deployed, says Paul Sereiko, president of Needham, MA–based wireless-sensor maker Sensicast Systems, it “will provide an excellent early-warning system for wide-area contaminant monitoring.” But, he adds, additional local monitoring will still be needed.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

computation concept
computation concept

How AI is reinventing what computers are

Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.

still from Embodied Intelligence video
still from Embodied Intelligence video

These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems

They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.

seeing is believing concept
seeing is believing concept

Our brains exist in a state of “controlled hallucination”

Three new books lay bare the weirdness of how our brains process the world around us.

We reviewed three at-home covid tests. The results were mixed.

Over-the-counter coronavirus tests are finally available in the US. Some are more accurate and easier to use than others.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.