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DetectionChemical detection sensors at the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub

Published 8 November 2017

In New York, a new magnificent architectural wonder in white, the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, also known as the Oculus, attracts tens of thousands of commuters and visitors every day. The Hub connects two subway systems and provides access to multiple buildings that make up the World Trade Center. However, even the most beautiful and useful places are not immune to danger from terrorist chemical attacks. DHS S&T entered into an agreement this spring with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to begin the design, establishment, operation, and maintenance of a chemical detection testbed for identifying hazardous gases.

In New York, a new magnificent architectural wonder in white, the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, also known as the Oculus, attracts tens of thousands of commuters and visitors every day. The Oculus, which opened last year, lives up to both meanings of its name – “oculus” from Latin means “eye” and “opening.” On the inside, the ceiling is shaped like an eye with a horizontal pupil. On the outside, the empty space above the structure, an opening between skyscrapers, lets sunlight hit the memorial footprints of the Twin Towers during the fall equinox. The Hub connects two subway systems and provides access to multiple buildings that make up the World Trade Center.

However, even the most beautiful and useful places are not immune to danger from terrorist chemical attacks.  

S&T says that to protect both the people and the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) entered into an agreement this spring with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to begin the design, establishment, operation and maintenance of a chemical detection testbed for identifying hazardous gases. A testbed is an environment where technology is positioned and tested. Together these institutions will examine the performance and effectiveness of already existing devices and will choose the most suitable ones for the Oculus.  

“The goal is to achieve independent detection by at least two different types of sensors in the event of an intentional release of a chemical dangerous to the public and employees in the Oculus,” said Don Bansleben, program manager in S&T’s Chemical and Biological Defense Division. The results from this testbed could be integrated into the Port Authority’s operational and emergency plans to enhance security and public safety measures.

Intentional gas poisoning in public transportation dates back before 9/11. In 1995, a terrorist group called Aum Shinrikyo released self-made sarin nerve gas from a bag they left in a Japanese metro station. The gas killed 11 people and injured about 1,000. Chemicals, such as sarin gas, mustard gas and chlorine, a widely produced industrial chemical, have also been used in recent wars – the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s and, most recently, in the Syrian conflict.