Protecting Subways from Chemical Attack

The United States is working on a system for detecting chemical attacks in subway systems, according to a government official cited by Reuters. The early warning sensor system, thought to be the first of its kind, detects and identifies toxic chemicals; maps contaminated zones; and predicts the path of spread of hazardous gases so emergency crews can redirect subway trains. A subway station in Washington will test the system before year�s end.

Called PROTECT (Program for Response Options and Technology Enhancements for Chemical/Biological Terrorism), the project is a joint effort between the Department of Transportation, the National Institute of Justice, and the Department of Energy, working with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Analysts say a 1995 attack in which members of a Japanese cult released sarin gas in a Tokyo subway proved how vulnerable subways are to chemical attacks. The attack killed 12 and injured 6,000. Sarin and mustard gas are considered the two most likely chemicals agents to be released in such an attack.

In light of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, the three-year project now has a greater sense of urgency. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization urged all countries to strengthen their defenses against biological and chemical weapons.

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