- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2001

Metro, the District and federal agencies will simulate a terrorist chemical-weapon attack at a subway station this year to test a sensor system for detecting chemical agents and alerting passengers and emergency workers, government and Metro officials said.

The simulation, scheduled for early December, is part of a five-year, $17 million test program known as Project PROTECT (Program for Response Options and Technology Enhancements for Chemical/Biological Terrorism). It is sponsored by the Department of Energy, the National Institute for Justice and other federal agencies.

Metro is the only transit agency in the country testing the new technology, said Transit Police Deputy Chief Polly Hanson.

According to Metro sources, Transit Police Chief Barry J. McDevitt recently told the Metro board that the transit agency in 1999 began installing in downtown subway stations sensors that can detect invisible chemical agents that have no taste or smell.

Biological-weapons sensors that can detect substances like anthrax could be in place by the end of the year, Metro sources said.

Metro inquired about Project PROTECT soon after the 1995 Tokyo subway station attack, in which a doomsday sect released sarin nerve gas, killing 10 persons and sickening 5,000, Chief Hanson said.

Originally developed in Germany in the 1930s, a drop of sarin could kill hundreds of people in a crowded Metro station within minutes after skin contact or inhalation of its vapor.

The simulation will be a surprise and will include the Metro Transit Police and the D.C. fire and police departments, government and Metro sources said.

D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few said the sensors "give [the fire department] a heads-up."

The sensors are installed inside and outside selected subway stations, said Jonathan Kiell, a spokesman for the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, one of the federal agencies sponsoring the program through its Chemical and Biological Nonproliferation Program.

Sources with Metro and the federal government said that, as part of the exercise to test the response system, sensors also are to be installed on subway cars.

Mr. Kiell said the simulation will test not only the chemical sensors, but also how well Metro, emergency personnel and the public are alerted.

"It shows what areas are clear and what areas are not clear" of a chemical agent, Mr. Kiell said of the elaborate computer system that can track the spread of chemical agents and show the best exits for the public to use and entrance points for firefighters and police.

The Web site for the Energy Department's Chemical and Biological National Security Program states that "PROTECT's emergency management information system will transmit alarms, predicted hazard maps, video, and other information to response coordinators in real time."

Metro has 1,400 closed-circuit cameras throughout its subway system, and each can be modified to tie in to the chemical-weapons sensor system, Metro sources said.

According to government and fire department sources, the public would be notified by a noise like a fire alarm when a chemical agent is detected. To prevent a stampede to an exit, the alarm will only sound in the area where the agent is released, indicating to the public it should "run the other way," one source said.

The system allows for Metro operators to change the air flow inside the subway system to move a chemical agent away from passengers, said Page Stoutland, former director of the Energy Department's Chemical and Biological Nonproliferation Program, in her testimony before the House Government Reform Committee during a March 2000 hearing about chemical and biological weapons.

"Our scientists have estimated that if one can respond within six minutes over 1,800 lives would be saved in a small-scale sarin nerve-gas attack," Miss Stoutland said.

Mr. Kiell and Metro officials said the system also will indicate if parts of the subway system's ventilation system need to be shut down or left open to release toxic agents into the open air. That way, they dissipate and become less of a threat than in confined spaces.

Metro also has air filters to dilute toxins.

"You don't want to move the problem further along," Mr. Kiell said. "The idea is to get the agent out of a confined space."

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