In a sense, a detector — handheld, mobile or stationary
— is the frontline tool within a network of CBRN
detection, analysis and identification instruments.
Detectors provide information either as a single tool or
as part of a network of tools that will contribute to the
work in mobile and fixed-site laboratories by correctly
classifying and identifying the threat materials. “When
entering an area or a building suspected of CBRN
activities, a handheld detector is useful in that it gives
warnings and location of the substance in question,”
Heyl said. “Detailed and confirmed identification of
a substance in question can be determined later in a
laboratory setting — mobile, modular or fixed — for
In a sense, a detector — handheld, mobile or stationary — is the frontline tool within a network of CBRN detection, analysis and identification instruments. Detectors provide information either as a single tool or as part of a network of tools that will contribute to the work in mobile and fixed-site laboratories by correctly classifying and identifying the threat materials. “When entering an area or a building suspected of CBRN activities, a handheld detector is useful in that it gives warnings and location of the substance in question,” Heyl said. “Detailed and confirmed identification of a substance in question can be determined later in a laboratory setting — mobile, modular or fixed — for further analysis.”
Detection or identification for substance specfic for legal and evidentiary purposes is based on the requirements of individual customers or countries. “Normally, separate samples are needed for laboratory analysis to verify the detection. This, however, is arranged by the users,” Anttalainen said. “The detector provider can help the users choose which method of sampling and analysis will be employed, and detectors are used to screen the area where sampling should be made.”
Transferring Intell igence and Samples Transfers of detected information to the central database are roughly separated into two methods. First, for immaterialized substance such as radiological threats, handheld radiological detectors have built-in space for storing spectra. “The purpose of such capability is to perform further analysis away from the radiation source or to send the spectra to teams or agencies better equipped for advanced analysis,” Koga said. Electronic information captured on detectors can also be transmitted back to the central database via wireless or wired connections for further reference and study. CBRN detectors can be connected to other security systems, if their communication interfaces are compatible.
The second type of transmission involves materialized substances, such as chemical, biological and gas threats. In addition to detecting threats, field engineers need to collect samples for further testing and analysis in laboratories. “Simply speaking, the samples would be collected and placed inside a pre-cleaned container before getting double-wrapped and transported in a second container to a designated laboratory,” Heyl said.
Mobile laboratories are gaining popularity as a convenient way to test and analyze samples immediately following sampling for faster results. “These laboratories are a significant advancement in on-site threat assessment,” said Keith Landy, President of Germfree.
Mobile laboratories are versatile, reliable and rugged even in extremely harsh weather conditions. “Providing information to incident commanders at the site of origin allows for timely decisions that lead to saving lives, infrastructure and the environment,” Heyl said. “Mobile laboratories present this capability in-situ by providing credible and defensible information to the incident commander.” Additionally, mobile laboratories are capable of archiving samples, later transitioning the samples and all relevant data to fixed-site laboratories for longer storage periods. Particularly when investigating law enforcement cases, the samples require proper storage under correct environmental controls to ensure appropriate conditions for forensic evidentiary needs later on. When it is conclusive that the sample is no longer needed, laboratory experts can destroy the samples right in the laboratory.
Samples can be stored properly in both mobile and fixed-site laboratories that are designed to preserve evidence while safeguarding the integrity of the sample given the right setup. Equipment like safes, surveil-lance cameras, environmental controls and recorders of controls are common devices used in laboratories. Biometric installments at designated access points, such as retinal and fingerprint scanners, are also used for additional security. “With newer technologies more available and affordable than before, it has become easier to integrate the safety features that are necessary for sample preservation into mobile and fixed-site laboratories,” Heyl said. “In order to preserve sample integrity, the samples and the associated information with samples, such as chain of custody documentation, must be tracked and retained under proper circumstances and in the appropriate way to have value within the law enforcement community.”
Gathering useful information on suspicious substances with a detector is only half the task. Once the substance is confirmed, the information must be shared with relevant bodies for correct identification and a further course of action. “There is a trend of integrating data from a number of detectors or reports in a single user interface to allow for optimal situational awareness for the proprietor of a building or first responder,” Gaasbeek said. “This trend is mostly visible in the field of integrated security systems for critical infrastructure and in first responder software, where models are used in combination with a geographic information systems environment for optimal situational awareness.”
Sometimes data that is relevant to CBRN response is information that is public knowledge, or is easily known. Once concentrated, integrated and correlated with other information it becomes confidential and is only shared within a designated network. “Data security is vital for agencies in order to effect a measured and coordinated response to CBRN incidents. To counter leaks, encryption and compartmentalization are common tactics,” Johnson said. Serial communication is also widely used when transferring data.
So far no database connectivity on a national or international level is known, although cooperation with individual government bodies exists. “In the U.S., organizations such as the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and Department of Energy often have agreements in place to provide reach back services for local, state and federal agencies,” Koga said.
Upgrades, Standards, Testing and Training
Technology upgrades are determined by the nature of what is offered by manufacturers. “For newly introduced technologies, roughly 5 to 10 percent of customers are willing to invest, while the rest of a given customer set relies on older technology, taking a wait-and-see stance to see how well the new technologies are accepted," Johnson said. "Exceptions are when a new technology addresses a long-standing problem, such as aroma sensing technology for cargo screening, and/or when the technology is mandated by authorities.” However, upgrades normally involve disposable or reusable kits with a fixed lifetime and software only; hardware upgrades are uncommon, as customers usually decide on the latest product when purchasing hardware. Some industry experts find military agencies are the predominant buyers of the latest hardware models.
There are currently no established standards for CBRN detectors. “In Europe, the EU CREATIF, a network of testing facilities for CBRN detection equipment, is trying to develop European testing standards,” Rothbacher said.
NATO also offers basic performance and environmental standards for detector testing. These standards are often developed for the military field, and might not be suitable for civilian environments, where threat levels are perceived differently. “When new testing standards are developed based on terrorist threat levels, the focus will probably be on higher sensitivity and higher accuracy (low false-positive and low false-negative readings),” Gaasbeek said. “It is unlikely that these new standards will develop in the short-term, and also improbable to shift toward lowering the threat levels, since the worst-case scenario in the military environment is still present — a full-scale attack.”
Field testing protocols for CBRN detectors still need time to mature. “Since there is limited real-life experience with using the detectors in the field, it is hard for users to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a certain detector, and therefore difficult to adapt to or improve existing protocols,” Gaasbeek said. Customers should understand the full potential of the instruments procured and check if the instruments are working as they should be.
A solution to this problem is third-party laboratory tests, replacing on-site trials. An airport cannot come by nuclear weapons just to test equipment sensitivity, which risks the lives of innocent bystanders. “Normally a demonstration of device capabilities is a test report from an external research laboratory,” Anttalainen explained. “Quite often, customers conduct their own tests during the purchasing process in their national laboratories and also field tests by end users."
Facilities for detection testing are restricted to special areas, as users cannot readily test live CWA or radioactive materials in public or environmentally sensitive locations. Users can also use CBRN detection simulators for training. “Increasing numbers of detectors designed around a range of different technologies are procured to meet specific operational parameters, and to provide cross-confirmatory assurance requirements,” said John Saunders, Sales and Marketing Manager of Argon Electronics. “This has led to a requirement to deliver a multi-instrumented training capability that is not easily achieved using real detectors, but which can be provided by integrated simulation systems.” Simulator instruments have been procured as a cost-effective alternative to real and expensive detectors for training purposes.
Existing technologies will ripen for the CBRN industry, driven by market demand. Long-term R&D efforts will continue for further maturation of existing products, allowing even higher sensitivity levels and accuracy rates. Specialized detection technology will be adopted in the civilian world for better and faster diagnostic precision, particular in health care. “In the U.S., industry works closely with government, and together they keep technology on the cutting edge while supporting those at risk. For instance, the U.S. has been able to transition battlefield medical technologies into the practical sciences that directly apply to industry and commerce,” Heyl said. “Another trend is the way forward with robotic developments. Robots that have been developed specifically for battlefield applications are now transitioned back home for improved industrial and medical use.” As the world stands on tip toes for public assaults and dangers, CBRN detectors help keep watch for uninvited threats at all times.