New York transit to upgrade chemical detection system
Two years after a chemical detection system was rushed into place at Grand Central Station in time for the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2004, officials at New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority are satisfied that they can use the equipment properly and have decided to spend $3.9 million to further upgrade the network of sensors at Grand Central Terminal and install a similar system in Pennsylvania Station, The New York Times reports.
When security officials first installed the system to sniff the air for signs of a poison gas or chemical attack, technicians found that a person walking by with a mop and bucket full of floor cleaner could trigger the chemical sensors.
The system, known as Protect (the acronym stands for Program for Response Options and Technology Enhancements for Chemical/Biological Terrorism), includes sensors, also called sniffers, that continually suck in air and analyze it for chemical toxins and gases, says Jamie Edgar, a vice president of Smiths Detection-LiveWave, the company that manufactures and installs the equipment.
The sensors, housed in metal boxes around Grand Central Terminal, are combined with concealed video cameras that let technicians or law enforcement personnel observe the area around the monitors for signs of an attack, the newspaper reports. Data is analyzed with software that can predict the direction of a chemical plume, to aid officials in coordinating an evacuation.
The biological detectors are checked manually once a day. The chemical sensors, however, are computerized and constantly feed data into a monitoring system that can alert the terminal’s security staff when a problem occurs.
Early on, technicians encountered an array of cleaning products in the terminal, and adjustments were needed in the sensors and software, but they have gone smoothly, officials say.
Amtrak has indicated it also has plans to place monitors in the portion of Penn Station it controls, and to put chemical-detection systems in place in three other stations, in Philadelphia, Washington and Chicago. The installation at the four sites will take place over the next two years at a cost of $5.5 million, Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Romero told the New York Times.