Washington, July 5 : Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) are designing a ventilation system that could protect schools, hospitals, and other public buildings from chemical warfare and bioterrorist attacks, thus making the buildings "immune".
According to engineering dean and lead researcher Janusz Kozinski, "Think of it as a complex fire alarm for industrial chemical spills, airborne diseases, and biological warfare strikes on vulnerable public spaces."
"Whether an emergency starts with a terrorist's biowarfare assault or a contagious disease seeping through a hospital's air ducts, time is of the essence. This system promises to give citizens and emergency workers in these scenarios the extra seconds they need to respond before it's too late," adds Kozinski.
Known as the Early Warning and Response system (eWAR), it addresses what Kozinski views as major threats to public safety - the release of noxious chemicals and bio-agents into public buildings either accidentally through industrial spills or purposely through bioterrorist assaults that target ventilation systems.
It could also address the threat of outbreaks by detecting diseases, such as chickenpox and tuberculosis, before they spread through a hospital's air vents.
The new lab-scale set-up includes a model Heat Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system that runs different simulations of potential building contamination scenarios.
Using the model HVAC system, Kozinski and his colleagues will further investigate how humidity, air pressure, wind, and temperature influence the spread of noxious fumes and biochemical agents.
The lab's research will help determine how eWAR can both filter harmful agents out of the air and activate warnings when airborne contaminants reach a critical density.
In its current design, eWAR quickly notifies building residents about potential threats and conserves energy by only activating in times of potential crisis.
"We are expanding the scope of eWAR applications to cover a wider base of situations that may affect civilian populations, such as the spread of influenza, anthrax, or nerve agent sarin," according to Andre Dascal, a McGill University associate professor of medicine, microbiology, and immunology collaborating on the project.
Once fully developed, eWAR is expected to fill a gap in the bio-defence marketplace, where maintaining bio-security in public buildings is not economically feasible using current technologies.
An integrated eWAR system could make detecting the myriad chemicals and bio-agents part of normal security procedures, essentially creating "immune buildings."
According to Suzanne L. Lebel, Chairman of Alert B and C, "Shopping malls, government facilities, and commercial buildings are all waiting for a system like eWAR to give first responders enough time to evacuate people from public places before they are exposed to dangerous chemicals and biohazards."