Marine unit buys attack-modeling software

The Marine Corps' Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF), one of the Defense Department's leading anti-terrorism units, recently purchased an enterprise license for one of the first software applications capable of modeling and predicting the impact of terrorist attacks involving nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

The issue of defending against terrorist attacks involving chemical or biological weapons has taken center stage in U.S. national security circles since international inspections failed to ensure that Iraq was no longer producing such weapons. In fact, according to an official statement released this year by John Lauder, the special assistant to the director of central intelligence for nonproliferation, the chemical weapons capabilities of rogue countries such as Iraq and North Korea continue to grow.

However, PLG Inc., a small risk-assessment firm based in Alexandria, Va., has developed one of the first software tools capable of helping emergency and military officials plan an effective response to a chemical or biological attack. Known as the Meteorological Information Dispersion and Assessment System Anti-Terrorism (MIDAS-AT), the software represents the first application of its kind capable of modeling potential hazard areas and aftereffects of a chemical or biological agent attack inside a building or urban area.

The company has targeted disaster and emergency response personnel across the country—including military and federal disaster agencies—who require an automated tool to help them predict the effects of an attack as well as manage the response. For example, MIDAS-AT's sophisticated algorithms take into account environmental factors to help users predict the size of the immediate danger zone and create a time line of how and when the deadly agent will spread.

In addition to detailed reference data on the properties of biological and chemical agents such as anthrax and sarin, MIDAS-AT integrates U.S. census data, Global Positioning System links and detailed vector maps capable of zooming in on the plot of a single-family home and can deliver this data to a user's laptop computer. The application also can accept real-time weather information through a local Internet feed to better predict local conditions.

"We give you the current tactical picture," said Randy Ridley, director of federal programs for PLG. "The system automatically receives new data, recalculates and updates all fields every five minutes. This couldn't have been accomplished on a personal computer three or four years ago."

One of the truly revolutionary aspects of the software, according to Marine Corps officials, is its ability to model urban areas and buildings, and predict how agents will react and spread. In fact, the software enables emergency personnel to quickly draw models of buildings, such as the White House, and store them for future use in a crisis.

MIDAS-AT bases its models and predictions on the type and amount of agent released, whether the windows are open or the air conditioning is on, the speed and direction of the wind outside, and other factors."It is truly a new product that is jumping ahead of the current slide-rule solution," Ridley said, referring to the manual calculations officials have been forced to rely on in the past.

Doug Brice, program manager for the Marine Corps' CBIRF, said other products are not able to model urban areas the way MIDAS-AT does. "You have to be able to employ a capability to respond to these types of events in a lot of different places, and [MIDAS-AT] assists in analyzing how you employ personnel and equipment," Brice said. "It's not an end-all solution, but we think it has the potential to be a good aid to help us figure out what we need to do to respond to a crisis."


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