Computer modeling and homeland security
HPAC software developed at ORNL models atmospheric transport and ground deposition of hazardous releases (shown as colorful plume).
Suppose that a group of terrorists releases anthrax disease spores from a crop duster.
Could these airborne spores be detected? How many people might be exposed?
What if a group of terrorists detonates a "dirty bomb" in which radioactive materials are
dispersed by a conventional explosive? How many people could be exposed to hazardous
radioactivity from such an explosion?
Suppose that a Boeing 767 airplane hijacked by terrorists crashes into a nuclear power
plant, destroying the building in which spent nuclear fuel is being stored under water and
causing the release of large amounts of radioactivity. How many people could be exposed
to dangerous amounts of radiation?
These questions have been raised in the news media in the wake of the September 11,
2001, terrorist attacks on America. Research at ORNL using computational simulation and
modeling has resulted in products that can help America and other countries address these
questions concerning the use of weapons of mass destruction. Computer software and
modeling and simulation techniques developed at ORNL can provide American citizens
with the information they need to protect themselves from terrorist threats, improving
The only device in the world capable of detecting both chemical and biological threats in
minutes has been built at ORNL with help from its partners. This system won an R&D 100
Award in 2000 as one of the most significant technological advances of the year. This
Block II chemical-biological mass spectrometer (CBMS) is the first integrated system
capable of detecting and identifying chemical warfare agents, such as mustard gas and
sarin, and biological warfare agents, such as anthrax spores.
ORNL researchers in the newly formed Computational
Sciences and Engineering Division (CSED), Chemical
Sciences Division (CSD), and Engineering Science and
Technology Division (ESTD) worked with several
partners to develop the CBMS for the U.S. Army Soldier
Biological Chemical Command. The goal of this
five-year program, now in its fifth year, has been to
develop a technology to rapidly detect and identify
chemical and biological agents in the mobile battlefield.
The CBMS achieves this goal by combining a
high-sensitivity mass spectrometer, integrated
electronics, and an expert system (using software
developed by CSED).
The $45-million CBMS program, headed by CSD's
Wayne Griest, is responsible for designing, building, and
demonstrating prototypes and pre-production units of the
Block II CBMS. Tests performed thus far at the Dugway
Proving Ground in Utah and by an independent contractor at ORNL have shown that
ORNL is on track for meeting program goals. "The CBMS can be easily operated by
soldiers in the field," says Griest. "It also can be used for homeland security by detecting
and identifying chemical and biological threats to civilian populations and determining
when it is safe for people to return to evacuated areas."
CSED researchers Bob Morris and Ron Lee are working on improving the Version 4.0
software architecture for the Hazard Prediction and Assessment Capability (HPAC)
Program. This program is funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Strategic
Command of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
HPAC is an integrated system of codes and data that provide
useful information on the dispersal of hazardous nuclear,
biological, and chemical materials released to the atmosphere.
HPAC includes detailed, three-dimensional (3D) information
on transport and dispersion of hazardous materials through the
atmosphere, and their deposition to the ground. All this
information is linked to worldwide population information at a
one- kilometer (1-km) resolution (see next section), to predict
the consequences of various releases (e.g., how many people
are being exposed to potentially dangerous concentrations of
these materials). The HPAC system provides estimates of
acute and long-term doses of radioactive, chemical, or
biological materials to the population.
HPAC is currently being used at most military command
centers throughout the world. It was used during the Bosnia conflict in the 1990s; the 1996
Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia; the inauguration of President George Bush
in 2001; and studies of illnesses suffered by soldiers who participated in the Persian Gulf
War of 1991. It was used at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In March 2001, Jim Kulesz of CSED chaired an internal
quality-assurance surveillance of the HPAC project. Familiar with
the CBMS development, he believed that CBMS could be modified
to measure the plume concentrations of biological and chemical
warfare agents it detects. This information could then be entered
into modified HPAC air-dispersion models to predict future
migration rates and concentrations of hazardous materials in the
plume (prognostics). The models could also use this information to
locate the source of the hazardous plume (forensics).
After the incidents of September 11 and subsequent anthrax
releases in the U.S. mail system, it became apparent that the
combined CBMS-HPAC technologies could be used to enhance
homeland security. Sponsors of ORNL work on the CBMS and HPAC projects are now
discussing the possibility of funding a collaborative effort at ORNL to develop improved
products for both battlefield and homeland security. ORNL's National Security
Directorate is actively discussing the concept with military and homeland security
Assessing populations in crisis
When a hazardous material is released into the atmosphere, emergency responders to the
crisis need to know who is being exposed, where aid is needed the most, how many
people are leaving the affected area, and where the "refugees" are going. To help answer
these and other questions, CSED's Geographic Information Science and Technology
(GIST) Group has developed a world population database that has the world's finest
resolution, as well as computer models and 3D visualizations that use this unique
database. For this project, the group has applied and improved geographic information
systems (GIS) techniques.
The GIST LandScan Population Distribution Project, funded by DoD, developed the
LandScan 1998 and LandScan 2000 databases for the entire world. The LandScan
database allows the user to assess how many people are present in any given 1-km2 area.
CSED researchers Eddie Bright, Phil Coleman, and Budhendra Bhaduri are currently
developing a very high-resolution population distribution database (LandScan USA) for
the United States. LandScan USA indicates the number of people in any 90-m cell. The
unique feature of LandScan USA is that in addition to residential (nighttime) population, it
predicts a daytime population at the same spatial resolution. Because natural and
human-induced disasters often strike during the day, the LandScan USA daytime
population distribution data is critical in emergency management and response
LandScan uses population numbers provided by the U.S. Census Bureau's International
Program and geographic data derived from satellite imagery. The LandScan Population
Distribution Model takes into account various factors—such as land cover (e.g.,
buildings, trees, grassy areas), nighttime lights, the slope of the ground, and the proximity
to roads—to determine the likelihood that a cell has a population.
Recent terrorist attacks on the United States have made
emergency responders, legislators, and the general
public more aware of their need to know where people
are and where they are going. "Most natural and
manmade disasters strike very unexpectedly, placing
vast populations at risk," says Bhaduri, the leader of the
GIST Group. "The lack of any efficient advanced
warning system compels emergency responders to
quickly assess how far and in what direction will a
contaminant release disperse, how many people are at
risk, who are they, and where are they? Geographic information can significantly aid in
quickly answering these critical questions for emergency planning, response, and
To answer these questions more accurately, CSED researchers are combining the
capabilities of the LandScan population database with those of the HPAC system. In an
HPAC simulation, a plume containing a disease-causing agent travels from its source
through the air over a rural area toward a large city. Using its imagery and data, the
LandScan database generates 3D animations of potentially affected populations. This
visual tool used in conjunction with HPAC allows investigators and planners to "see"
where a chemical or biological agent will disperse and which populations will be
The recent terrorist attacks also aroused concerns about resources being at risk. CSED
researchers could provide useful information on the risks to the population of
contaminated food and water. Currently, Bhaduri is leading a national pesticide usage
impact modeling project. He and his group are assessing which of 10,000 drinking water
intakes are most likely to receive pesticides used to protect agricultural crops from attack
by insects and pathogens. The project makes its analyses using National Hydrography
Data, National Land Cover Data, county-based pesticide usage data, and the national
CSED researchers also can aid authorities in reducing possible terrorist threats to U.S.
transportation systems. For the Department of Energy's National Transportation Program,
Paul Johnson and Richard Michelhaugh, both of ORNL's Nuclear Science and
Technology Division, have developed the Transportation Routing Analysis GIS
(TRAGIS) model. This routing tool can be used to determine the highway, railroad, or
waterway transportation routes that pass through areas having the least population in the
unlikely event of an accident that could release hazardous materials. TRAGIS also has the
capability to determine alternative routes (e.g., to avoid areas considered at risk of an
imminent terrorist attack).
Information processing agent
CSED's Collaborative Technologies Group, led by Thomas Potok, has created and
demonstrated a new way to integrate, manage, and discover information. Called the
Virtual Information Processing Agent Research (VIPAR) system, this tool gathers and
integrates information from a number of open sources on the Internet. It then rapidly
searches, clusters, and analyzes the combined data and presents the results visually to
information analysts. This project, sponsored by DoD's Office of Naval Research, was
conducted jointly with the Advanced Technologies Program at DOE's Oak Ridge Y-12
National Security Complex.
The VIPAR system is installed at the U.S. Pacific Command Virtual Information Center,
which calls it a "grand-slam home run," as well as at ORNL and the Pacific Disaster
Center. VIPAR users no longer have to read through large quantities of information to find
the answers they seek. VIPAR graphically displays relevant new information
relationships that may suggest trends of interest to military, intelligence, and
law-enforcement personnel. This technology could also be applied to other text-intensive
processes, such as message routing and organizing electronic mail.
Development of a virtual information processing agent was possible because of several
research breakthroughs in managing newspaper information, dynamically adding and
clustering new information entering the system, and graphically representing the organized
infor-mation so that it is easily understandable. Thanks to the VIPAR system, meaningful
information can be rapidly extracted from the vast repository of data on the Internet.