The Viridian Design Movement

Sent: Saturday, November 02, 2002 9:21 PM

Subject: Viridian Note 00349: SensorNet

Key concepts:
ubicomp, cellphone towers, anthrax alerts, public health, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, biological warfare, microbes, terrorism, scenario
Attention Conservation Notice:
It's very scary.


I'm departing to Europe soon and won't be back for a while. If you're around Milano or Amsterdam, send email.

Fantastic gallery of pre-modern attempts to "make the invisible visible."

The very first Austinite just got diagnosed with West Nile virus, that signature of the Greenhouse. Now comes the suggestion that the virus may be sexually transmissible.,1282,-2129716,00.html

Esso/Exxon-Mobil accurately denounced as "number one climate criminals."

Not to worry, the fully-briefed right-wing wonks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute have the planet's atmosphere under control.

"The Oil Reaper" at the big Washington anti-war demo.


"Cell-phone towers could be armed to detect chemical, biological or nuclear hazards

"The world's best architects probably couldn't make cell-phone towers look pretty, but there is a plan to elevate their importance. (((As Viridians, we have no doubt whatsoever that the world's best architects could make cellphone towers look pretty.)))

"Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are working on a project that would adorn some of the nation's 30,000 cell towers with sensors to warn of chemical, biological or nuclear hazards. It's called SensorNet.

"'If we had a biological attack today, we wouldn't know until people were showing up sick at the hospital. That's too late,' said Mike Kuliasha, director of ORNL's homeland-security program. (((And besides, those 30,000 surveillance towers are just sitting there. On tall hilltops. Sniffing the wind.)))

"The United States needs a detection-and-response system right away to deal with terrorist threats, and cell towers make good sense, Kuliasha said.

"'They already have power. (((And we want that!))) They already have security. They already have telecommunications. And, generally speaking, they are where the people are,' he said. (((Terrific soundbite! But then again, Dr. Kuliasha has been on television.)))

"The Oak Ridge laboratory has signed a memorandum of understanding with American Tower Corp., which owns 10,000 of the nation's towers, to work together on the project.

"We Build Broadcast Solutions! Anticipating Tomorrow!"

"The cost of outfitting all of the nation's towers might be prohibitive, at least in the near term, but ORNL officials are discussing pilot projects with Atlanta and New York City and hope to install experimental systems in either or both in 2003.

"'Both are very, very interested,' said Jim Kulesz, the laboratory's point man on SensorNet.

((("Cost" is "prohibitive"? Try the public wi-fi approach! Saturate Manhattan with coverage before New Yorkers even know it!))) Link:

"Earlier this year, the ORNL team successfully tested the concept in three Tennessee cities == Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga == using simulants for chemical (sarin) and biological (anthrax) hazards. ((("Ahmed, go test out this fake sarin and... Oh wait a sec. Jim, Charlie, you two guys better do it.")))

"'It clearly demonstrated a lot of potential in the exercise I observed,' said Rick Shipkowski of the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security. The test sensors were networked to a command center set up in the state's homeland-security headquarters in Nashville.

(((Yes there is indeed a "Tennessee Office of Homeland Security."))) Link:

"'There are plans to do additional testing in the coming months at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge and in Washington, D.C. The Washington test will piggyback on meteorological studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is one of ORNL's strategic partners on the project.

"Kulesz estimated it would cost $2 billion over four years to implement the system in 120 major U.S. cities. (((While you're at it, why don't you give us Americans a decent cell phone system?)))

"Oak Ridge spent about $45 million over the past five years developing an instrument that's able to detect a wide range of chemical and biological hazards.

"The Block II Chem-Bio Mass Spectrometer was honored in 2000 as one of the year's top 100 inventions, and earlier this year a manufacturer began making a number of pre-production units that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps will test.

(((Here you go. Big ugly beige box. Definitely needs a design overhaul.)))

"The ORNL device identifies atoms of various agents by their mass-to-charge ratios and other unique markers. The Block II is reported to be the first full-scale instrument that can detect both chemical and biological hazards. A downside is that the instruments are expensive, costing about $200,000 each, although that price tag is expected to come down in mass production. (((Moore's-Law it, MEMS it, and then build it into the cellphone itself.)))

"(...) Speed is everything when responding to terrorism, and the goal of SensorNet is to have information to first responders in five minutes.

"A study found that if terrorists acquired 44 pounds of anthrax and released it into the atmosphere at Dulles Airport, outside Washington, it could expose more than 500,000 people to a potentially lethal dose within four hours.

"'Early warning might save hundreds of thousands of lives in that scenario,' Kulesz said. 'If you know you've been exposed to anthrax, you can do something about it.'

"Quick treatment is effective, and an early warning could help people take cover and perhaps avoid exposure altogether, he said.

"In addition to the hazard sensors, SensorNet includes meteorological equipment to help predict the dispersion of agents in atmospheric plumes. (((New SUV bumpoer sticker: "I'm Buying Weaponized Anthrax For Saddam Hussein"))) Computer codes can calculate the potential impact on populations. (((How handy.)))

"The system would use encrypted data lines, and all information should be in the hands of decision makers within minutes of the detection, said Dick Reid, a research group leader working on the project. (((How about us "non-decision-makers"? Can we blog it?)))

"The Oak Ridge lab expects to get about $5 million in federal funds in 2003 to expand the research. Project officials are seeking other sources of money to conduct urban tests.

"Among the supporters is U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., who was briefed on the project this summer. In an Aug. 9 letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Cleland said he was impressed with the system's potential and urged the Energy Department to give SensorNet 'the ultimate available support.'

"(...) ORNL was working on an unnamed system similar to SensorNet before Sept. 11, 2001. That system was designed for the military to enhance capabilities to detect various agents in the battlefield and predict their dispersion and impacts.

"'Then when 9-11 came, the battlefield became our homeland,' Kulesz said. 'SensorNet is really a strategy to help protect the nation.'" (((And imagine the fun of inflicting these hard-won skills on somebody else's nation.)))

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