- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

The prospect of a terrorist attack on an American political convention, at the Super Bowl or in a crowded shopping mall has troubled security experts for years.

They have a new weapon to add to their protective arsenal, however — one that was secretly and successfully tested during July Fourth festivities in a California town, researchers announced Thursday.

About 15,000 townsfolk from Livermore — just east of San Francisco — had no idea they were under the guardianship of high-tech “sensor management architecture” as they ate barbecued food, heard music and watched fireworks during the town’s “Old-Fashioned July Fourth” celebration.

“How can we rapidly deploy sensors, surveillance cameras and detection equipment across a small geographic location, monitor the data they collect and communicate amongst ourselves via multiple command stations? That’s the question we’re attempting to answer,” said Michael Johnson of Sandia National Laboratories.

The Albuquerque, N.M.-based research group developed the technology — called “SMA” for short.

It took Mr. Johnson and his team two hours to set up the discreet, mobile system of biological, chemical and radiological sensors; video cameras; an abbreviated weather station; and other monitoring equipment in a public park.

The combined measures covered a radius of about a mile and a half and included an encrypted, wireless communications network.

Livermore police were able to monitor the safety of revelers from a nearby command post almost instantaneously, with the holiday mood of the event kept intact.

The project was funded by the Department of Homeland Security, with an eye on the unthinkable.

“Suppose, at a major political event, a terrorist group decided to release a chemical agent that would expose hundreds of people to a deadly plume,” said Sandia computer scientist Heidi Ammerlahn.

With SMA in place, she said, a chemical detector immediately would activate an alarm, identify the toxic agent and notify emergency personnel. Wind velocity and temperature-monitoring equipment would judge the spread of the chemical, all under the eye of surveillance cameras.

Officials could determine the level of threat, the agent released, the environmental conditions and the whereabouts of suspects “in the blink of an eye, shaving precious minutes off the response time,” she said.

The system can be configured to detect “any number of weapons of mass destruction” and can be adapted to suit local information networks, according to the researchers.

Sandia is operated by Lockheed Martin Corp. for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Originally called “Z Division,” the lab was founded in 1945 as the testing arm of Los Alamos National Laboratory, which developed the original atomic bomb. The lab was run by AT&T; for 44 years and went under Lockheed management in 1993.

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