LLNL’s science-based approaches provide faster ways to assess, decontaminate, and safely reopen critical facilities.
A biological or chemical attack at a critical facility, such as an airport or subway system, would result in long-term closure while experts determine the type and extent of contamination, decontaminate the site, and demonstrate effective cleanup so services can be restored.
While long-term closure of transportation hubs and other critical facilities can have a substantial economic impact, stakeholders need to be confident that high-traffic facilities are safe to reopen.
The restoration process is complex, involving response teams that must collect and analyze hundreds or thousands of samples to identify and characterize the type of threat agent released and determine the extent of contamination. Decontamination is also a complex process, especially in facilities with enormous air-handling systems or with infrastructure that involves multiple interconnected components, such as a subway system’s stations, tunnels, and trains.
LLNL scientists demonstrate the rapid viability PCR process, which significantly reduces the time needed to analyze samples, while improving accuracy.
For the last decade, LLNL scientists have been exploring ways to strengthen our nation’s response and recovery process following a chemical or biological incident. Through collaborations with multiple agencies, they developed and tested a consequence management framework that stakeholders can use to manage restoration and recovery activities.
The consequence management framework does not offer a single recommended approach because each situation is unique. Instead, it provides guidance to decision makers so they can determine the appropriate response, based on the type of chemical or pathogen, how far it has spread, and how long it will survive.
The framework provides guidance regarding how to develop incident-and facility-specific consequence management plans.
In collaboration with a multiagency group, including Sandia National Laboratories and state and federal agencies, the team developed decision protocols and supporting operations that would be key to managing a terrorist incident at a major airport. Based on the list, scientists at LLNL and Sandia developed protocols aimed at reducing the timeframe to restore services. Their work culminated with field tests at two international airports— Los Angeles (for a chemical weapon incident) and San Francisco (for a biological weapon incident).
Researchers partnered with key stakeholders to develop and assess the consequence management framework for responding to a chemical or biological attack. They continue to share findings via publications, including guidance for airports, underground transportation systems, and other critical assets.
As part of their work developing the restoration plan, scientists created a new, faster technique to collect and analyze samples obtained from the air and from surfaces. Sample analysis helps define the extent of contamination and the agent attributes (e.g., particle size, spore concentration, and viability). This information can be used to characterize the agent, evaluate health risks, and establish containment options.
Building on existing sample analysis assays that use polymerase chain reaction (PCR), LLNL researchers and scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency developed a rapid viability PCR (RV-PCR) method that can provide significantly higher sample throughput with the same or improved sensitivity as compared to what is available through standard culturing processes.
After refining the initial consequence management framework, researchers adapted it for use with an underground transportation system. They conducted initial tests with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, using out-of-service subway cars to explore sample collection and agent characterization options.
In 2017, as part of the Underground Transportation and Restoration Project, they conducted a multiagency table-top exercise of the response and recovery decision framework for the New York City Transit (NYCT) System—a complex system, where each component requires a different decontamination approach.
The team established decontamination recommendations for each component, including subway cars, stations, and tunnels. They also explored using liquid, gel, or fog-based oxidizers for decontaminating large areas, such as tunnel walls.
In addition, the exercise provided an opportunity to improve the RV-PCR method so that it works more effectively when analyzing samples obtained from grimy environments, where residues can interfere with identification of the target agent. Test results showed that the enhanced RV-PCR method reduces false-negative results and improves accuracy, even when used in grimy environments. This method, along with techniques such as composite sampling to minimize the number of samples needed, could enable an earlier start to decontamination processes and reduce time spent on recovery activities.
A key part of the research regarding recovery plans involved developing a Webbased tool that guides recovery personnel through a step-by-step decision tree.
The decision framework provides recommendations for each step in the restoration and recovery process. A web-based application of this framework was developed and installed on the BART and NYCT systems and is now part of their emergency management operations.
This work offers rapid, accurate threat characterization, along with the ability to assess health risks and implement a decontamination approach that allows services to be restored in the shortest time possible, minimizing economic impacts.
Researchers plan to adapt the framework for other critical infrastructure, such as high-risk government facilities and high-value targets.