SensorNet proposed as system to protect millions nationwide

Tennessee could become a model for the nation when it comes to protecting the public from chemical, biological or radiological releases.

Already, sensors that are part of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s SensorNet are deployed in Nashville, Knoxville and Oak Ridge, and in other parts of the nation. Additional sensors are planned for Memphis, Chattanooga and Sullivan County in Upper East Tennessee. ORNL project managers envision more being added in the next few years, eventually spanning the state with sensors that would alert emergency responders and the public if they were in danger of being exposed to water or airborne hazards.

Frank Libutti, the Department of Homeland Security’s under secretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection, was in Nashville today to see first hand how the system works. Also attending the demonstration were several homeland security advisers from neighboring states.

John Strand, project manager for ORNL’s SensorNet program, hopes the presentation builds additional momentum for the project.

“We were able to provide Mr. Libutti and other homeland security advisers responsible for protecting the public with an overview of SensorNet, explain the benefits and answer a lot of questions,” Strand said. “And seeing scenarios unfold helped drive home the importance of SensorNet to the nation.”

The event was coordinated by Jerry Humble, director of the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security, which has designated the Department of Energy’s ORNL as its technology partner.

SensorNet, which is being developed to provide near real-time detection, identification and assessment of chemical, biological and radiological threats, will allow informed first responders to be dispatched within minutes of an event.

Nationally, the system would combine assets from government and private sectors to provide state-of-the-art sensors and remote telemetry by strategically locating and connecting remote sensors on or at existing commercial and government facilities. Critical information then can be sent simultaneously to incident management centers at the local, state and national levels within minutes of an event. First responders would know the critical details of the event, including assessment of the chemical or biological hazards as well as levels of radiological releases. In addition, emergency management personnel would know the projected path of the plume in time to take corrective action. Furthermore, it is possible to rapidly deploy a nationwide SensorNet system because much of the technology and infrastructure already exist.

A communications center at ORNL is operational and shows real-time data from test beds in Washington, D.C., New York and Tennessee. Data on several monitors show visual locations with zoom capability. Sensor operational status can be monitored in real time as well, and plume progressions are visible in two dimensions as well as in 3D.

Protecting the nation’s population is a daunting task, Strand noted. Tennessee alone, for example, has 87,000 miles of public roads, 1,073 miles of interstate, 3,000 miles of freight rail, five municipal/international airports and 603 hospitals. The Volunteer State is also home to 332 chemical sites with between 500,000 and 1 billion pounds of explosive materials, and to an additional 342 sites with more than 1 billion pounds of explosive materials.

By establishing Tennessee as a test bed for the nation, Strand said his team would be able to identify requirements necessary to make SensorNet work on a national scale.

Partners in the effort include the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and several commercial partners. ORNL is managed for DOE by UT-Battelle.

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