The New York City Police Department announced this past Wednesday that it will be conducting anti-terror tests involving the release of harmless gases into the city’s subway system.
A series of highly technical and scientific airflow studies will be conducted in July in which researchers will release harmless inert gases in to the New York City subway system to help authorities better understand how chemical weapons might dissipate in underground stations, tunnels and trains as well as the risks and challenges such an attack would pose to commuters and emergency responders.
The New York Times
informs that the NYPD will conduct the tests with scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Argonne National Laboratory, the Los Alamos Laboratory, and a bevy of engineers and meteorologists.
The elaborate project is officially known as the Subway-Surface Air Flow Exchange study, or S-SAFE.
S-SAFE is funded by a $3.4 million transit security grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The gases that will be dispersed into the subway system are reportedly perfluorocarbons, or "harmless tracer gases" which pose no health or environmental threat, according to the NYPD.
Perfluorocarbons are both colorless and odorless.
Officials will disseminate the harmless gas in 21 of the city’s 26 subway lines during three separate but non-consecutive days in July. The gases will also be released at street level in some locations in the city.
The NYPD said researchers conducting the study will release the gases in the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan from 59th street to the Battery.
Researchers will study the gases, tracking their movement throughout the city and how they disperse.
Besides chemical weapons, the study will also simulate the behaviors of biological and radiological weapons in the subway system as well as non-terrorist incidents involving industrial accidents with hazardous materials chemicals.
NYPD officials told DNAinfo
that during the month of July the public may notice as many as 200 air sampling detection devices in subway stations, on street light poles or being carried by researchers throughout the city. The NYPD also said that the exact subway lines where the gases will be released will remain a secret for security purposes.
Though similar studies were done in Washington D.C. and Boston, as well as in Manhattan in 2005, this upcoming study will be far more extensive in size and scope.
According to officials, the project will be the largest-ever study in the nation on the risks of airborne contaminants and their behavior in an urban area.
“The NYPD works for the best, but plans for the worst when it comes to potentially catastrophic attacks such as ones employing radiological contaminants or weaponized anthrax,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement obtained by the New York Daily News
“This field study with Brookhaven’s outstanding expertise will help prepare and safeguard the city’s population in the event of an actual attack.”
Ultimately, it is hoped that data collected from the study will help the NYPD to better understand chemical, biological and radiological weapons as well as to help improve the response of the city’s police force to such an emergency.
The NYPD told the Daily News that the public will be given advanced warning to the tests which are not expected to delay subway service or surface traffic.