MBTA holds drill to prepare for a chemical or biological attack

Published 7 December 2009

Scientists hold week-long drill inside the tunnels and stations of the Boston subway system to test the effectiveness of biological and chemical sensors, the test the speed of spread of chemical and biological toxins, and develop evacuation plans.

Federal and state officials this weekend began testing how airborne contaminants might be spread through Boston’s subway system, part of a week-long DHS study to prepare the Hub for a chemical or biological terrorist attack.

Marie Szaniszlo writes that a team of thirty scientists is releasing harmless, odorless tracer gases and an aerosol — a particle that behaves differently than a gas — in two dozen MBTA stations and subway cars to see where and how fast they travel. “We can estimate these types of things with models, but we really need data to see if we’re correct,” David Brown, a research scientist from Argonne National Laboratory, said at Haymarket Station.

The information will help DHS and the T know which trains to shut down and how to evacuate people in the event of an attack, a fire, or a chemical spill that seeps into the ventilation system from above ground, said John Verrico, a spokesman for DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate. It will help develop new equipment to detect contaminants, Verrico said.

The tests are being done at peak and off-peak hours through Friday and should be unnoticeable, with the exception of some particle counters, gas samplers, and scientists in orange vests, Verrico said.