The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) in Canada has announced it has opened a new engineering lab to provide state-of-the-art facilities to investigate the issue and help a new system called Early Warning and Response (eWAR).
Engineering dean and lead researcher Janusz Kozinski said the system would be especially useful to schools, hospitals and government buildings.
He said: “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.”
Mr Kozinski said he hoped eWAR would be able to tackle major threats to public safety including the release of noxious chemicals and bio-agents into public buildings.
Problems could emerge either accidentally through industrial spills or purposely through bioterrorist assaults that target ventilation systems.
The system will also look to detect diseases, such as chickenpox and tuberculosis, before they spread through a hospital’s air vents.
The new lab includes a model Heat Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system that runs different simulations of potential building contamination scenarios.
This will allow the research team to investigate how humidity, air pressure, wind, and temperature influence the spread of noxious fumes and biochemical agents.
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.
The eWAR project is a research consortium including U of S, McGill University, Concordia University, the Biotechnology Research Institute, the Directorate of Public Health of Montreal, infection control specialist UV-Sterisource, and biodefence specialist ALERT B & C.