Radar to warn of bio attacks

Researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory are exploring ways to use Doppler radar systems based at airports to detect biological and chemical agents that might be used in terrorist attacks.

Doppler weather radar systems are commonly used at airports to provide detailed information on the weather. In operation, a saucer-shaped dish sweeps through space and sends a directed pulse of energy out into the sky. When the energy encounters raindrops, a small part of the energy is reflected back, picked up and processed by computers which produce a map that shows the number and size of raindrops and their velocity toward or away from the radar tower.

The systems are very sensitive and ideal for detecting the structure and movement of storms.

Now, the MIT researchers are attempting to see whether the very same radar systems at major airports around the US could be used as an early warning system for chemical or biological agents disseminated by aeroplanes.

To do so, the MIT team is developing software that can scan the Doppler data for something with a different enough profile from snow, rain, insects and other natural phenomena to warrant a closer look.

A prototype of the detection system will be tested this spring on a radar in Oklahoma City, OK. If successful, the US Army will equip a number of additional radars around the US with the same capability.