A Computer System To Warn U.S. Cities Of Atmospheric Releases
This fall, Ronda Mosley-Rovi plans to detonate a simulated chemical, biological, or nuclear weapon in Seattle.
As director for environmental programs with Public Technology Inc. (PTI), Mosley-Rovi facilitates the introduction of environmental technologies to local government agencies. The Seattle simulation will test technology connected to a new concept called LINC, or the Local Integration National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center.
Developed jointly by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and PTI, LINC will enable cities and counties to track and respond to the movements of dangerous releases in the atmosphere. The LINC effort began prior to Sept. 11, when Mosley-Rovi arranged for a group of city and county officials with environmental responsibilities to visit the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) at the Livermore Lab. The original goal involved responding to accidents producing chemical releases.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 broadened the scope of the effort to include releases from chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. To that end, Mosley-Rovi submitted a proposal to the Department of Energy (DOE) asking for funding under the Chemical Biological National Security Program to take the LINC program to cities across the country.
In January 2002, the DOE agreed to fund a LINC test in one city, to the tune of $500,000. The parties selected Seattle and designed a response protocol.
The LINC process requires Seattle to designate a LINC computer with an Internet connection, and to download a series of Geographical Information System (GIS) maps to NARAC. The maps define the geographical features of the city as well as the locations of major structures.
When a release occurs, the city contacts NARAC and answers a few simple questions:
- Where did the release occur?
- What is it?
- What is the concentration?
Upon receiving the answers to these questions, Livermore personnel will make computer contact with two weather stations in Seattle, along with the weather facilities at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). By dealing with more than one weather facility, the lab will cross-check its information. Next, the lab’s computers will construct a graphic model of the release plume and send the model back to Seattle. The time required for all of this: five minutes.
“The display will show a bright red area where the accident or incident happened,” says Mosley-Rovi.
Over time, the lab will track the plume. This will help officials in Seattle to design their response, which could range from evacuating a small area or the entire city. Evacuations, of course, involve many different people in a city: the mayor, emergency operations people, transportation managers, EMT personnel, and the police and fire departments, all of whom are participating in the LINC effort.
The system has been set up and tested with a series of small, controlled exercises involving the lab and Seattle personnel. These tests aim to ensure the system does what it is supposed to do in the critical five minutes following an attack.
Seattle will test the system this fall with what Mosley-Rovi calls a tabletop demonstration, which will involve a simulated detonation.
If the system works as planned, Mosley-Rovi will submit a second proposal to the DOE, asking for funds to expand the project to a group of four to six cities of different sizes, located in different geographical areas of the country.
“We’ll also look for cities willing to contribute in-kind costs to the project,” says Mosley-Rovi.
Seattle, for example, has designated people to work with Mosley-Rovi’s team when they are in the city, and pays for their time. Additional costs include training time and occasional travel to the Lawrence Livermore Lab.
LINC is not the only program of this type. “Many jurisdictions are building their own tools for tracking plumes,” Mosley-Rovi says. “Through my research, I believe LINC to be the most extensive tool. What makes LINC different is that there is a person at the other end of the computer connection day and night. When you place the first call to Livermore, they will respond in five minutes with their enormous computer capabilities.”