Lidars: A key component of urban biodefense
A biological aerosol attack in a city could infect tens of thousands of people. In the absence of announcements by the attacker or detection by present point detection systems, victims would be unaware of their exposure prior to developing symptoms. Since infections are most effectively countered before the onset of symptoms, detection technologies that provide early awareness of an attack should be given high priority. Current biological point detection (BPD) systems collect environmental air samples and then analyze them in laboratories so as to permit detection within 12-36 hours of an attack. Improvements in the pipeline may reduce this lag time to as little as a few hours. However, BPD systems have inherent weaknesses when used to detect and respond to an aerosol attack. The likelihood of a limited number of BPD systems intercepting an aerosol plume in a vast attack space may be low. Moreover, BPD systems do not provide critical information needed for response, such as the source location, precise time, and geographic reach of an attack. The missing information would invaluably guide prophylaxis distribution, identification of contaminated areas, and criminal apprehension. This article describes how lidars used for real-time observation of aerosol plumes could complement BPD systems by providing fine-scale spatial and temporal information. A lidar system also could be used to corroborate positive BPD system results, to improve reaction to positive results, and/or to provide an independent basis for low-regret protective steps. Lidar systems can resolve key biodefense challenges, and this article describes three compatible concepts of operations. Leveraging lessons from a lidar system now operating at the Pentagon, a test of an expanded lidar network would provide immediate protection for key Washington, DC, assets, demonstrate the synergy of BPD systems and lidars, and provide a test bed for research to improve lidar's shortcomings.