New Counterterrorism Detection Tools Developed for Use by Emergency Crews

2/28/2000 - 7-00r
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Two portable instruments for the detection of bioterrorism agents, developed through a joint effort between the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and Research International of Woodinville, Washington, were used and evaluated by the Seattle Fire Department during last December's World Trade Organization meeting.

While no acts of bioterrorism occurred during the Seattle meetings, local Hazardous Materials Response Teams maintained the equipment for rapid deployment, which would have allowed them to collect samples from air, exposed surfaces or from water sources and determine, within 10 to 15 minutes, if a biological risk existed.

The first device, the Smart Air Sampler System (SASS) 2000, is a lightweight, low-power, portable air sampler capable of concentrating airborne particles by several hundred thousand times into a small amount of water. The SASS samples or manually collected samples can then be tested in the second device, the RAPTOR.

The RAPTOR is a versatile, portable (12-pound) biosensor that can detect the presence of minute concentrations of viruses, bacteria, and toxins in liquid samples. It is a completely self-contained instrument that integrates optics, fluidics, electronics, and software into one compact system for laboratory and field assays. RAPTOR runs highly specific antibody-based assays in a disposable cartridge the size of a credit card. Each cartridge is reusable until a positive response is detected.

After the WTO adjourned, local HAZMAT teams in Seattle successfully tested the biosensor using a benign simulant. In a later debriefing, Seattle authorities indicated that the equipment met their requirements for functionality and user friendliness, noting that first responder groups across the country need portable instruments of this type to meet the threat of bioterrorism.

Tools like RAPTOR and SASS will be invaluable for emergency personnel who may be called upon to make rapid decisions affecting the fate of large urban populations, notes Research International CEO, Elric Saaski. He notes that the availability of portable and rapid biosensors will aid first responders immeasurably ­ each incidence of a bioterrorism threat must be considered real, and weighing the cost per response, there is a critical need to separate hoaxes from the real thing at the earliest point possible.

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