Sandia's New BROOM Sweeps Clean
The impact of a terrorist attack, experts say, could be crippling to the U.S. economy or, at the very least, to the city or region in which the event might take place. A biological strike in particular would likely take months or years in cleanup efforts, leading to colossal disruptions for major facilities and the people who utilize them.
Officials at Sandia National Laboratories are hoping to head off such economic devastation by actively pursuing licensing partners for a software-based tool that manages the collection, visualization and analysis of environmental sampling data. The tool, researchers say, provides an efficient and scientifically defensible approach to planning and executing sampling and cleanup activities.
Sandia's Building Restoration Operations Optimization Model (BROOM) software system was developed to help decision makers—€”during the planning phase and throughout actual cleanup operations—€”to speed up reoccupation and return to service of contaminated buildings and facilities. To date, there has been no comprehensive system for handling and assisting with this process, somewhat startling when one considers the cost of the most recent event that required significant cleanup activities: the anthrax attack on the Senate Hart Office Building in Washington in 2001.
The Hart cleanup cost more than $28 million and took some three months, primarily because of the more than 10,000 samples that needed to be collected and analyzed. Says Richard Griffith, the Sandia manager who spearheaded the BROOM system's development: "Our hope is that a commercial BROOM product can make that process significantly more effective." Increasing efficiency in cleanup operations by using electronic data collection, sample management, and streamlined analysis processes, Griffith says, could significantly impact the bottom line for cleanup efforts and related economic factors.
Though BROOM was originally conceived for homeland security purposes, its developers say the system is also adaptable to other spatial domains where accurate and efficient data tracking, management, optimization, and analysis of samples are needed. Market research conducted at Sandia pointed to a number of possible users and/or applications:
—€ Environmental cleanup (including Superfund sites)
—€ Remediation companies
—€ Industrial hygiene
—€ Forensics/crime units
—€ Incident characterization
—€ Decontamination contractors
—€ Health agencies
—€ Airports, subways
—€ Government buildings
—€ Ports of entry
—€ Water utilities
—€ Gas and electric utilities
—€ Chemical plants
—€ Other critical infrastructure facilities
—€ Nuclear facilities
The cost to shut down public facilities, plants or businesses can be enormous. According to Business Week, costs of the 23-day closure of Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington after the 9/11 attacks have been estimated at $330 million per day to the airport and Northern Virginia businesses, and $27 million to state and local tax revenues. Cutting down closure times, even if only by mere days, would likely save tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. BROOM's integrated data collection, fast and efficient data management, and easy to use visualization software provides the ability to manage information needed to help assess contamination within a facility, to most effectively and efficiently plan operations to remediate that contamination, complete the cleanup and restore the facility to operation.
BROOM improves the efficiency of cleanup operations, minimizes facility downtime, and provides a transparent basis for reopening. The last factor is critical in gaining public and regulatory acceptance for declaring a facility to be "clean" and safe to reoccupy.
Collecting samples from a contaminated facility is currently a painstaking, time-consuming process for HazMat responders, says Sandia's Griffith. BROOM makes the procedure far more efficient and accurate, he said, with the aid of a handheld device, easy-to-use software, scanner, and wireless laser range finder that maps out with pinpoint accuracy where samples are taken.
The centerpiece of BROOM is a handheld device, which looks like a typical PDA but packs a large amount of data and information. The device uses sophisticated algorithms to generate contamination maps and layouts of the location where the responders are collecting samples and to develop statistically based sampling plans; a barcode scanner to track tagged samples and maintain chain of custody records; and electronic forms to capture information such as the sample type, surface type and texture, collection method, and other important data that is collectively managed by the BROOM software.
During time-sensitive events when sampling data is needed quickly, information can be wirelessly transmitted to a PC or central command station outside the contaminated area in a secure manner. The results can be displayed on a map on both the handheld device and the PC, allowing decision makers to determine if an area is truly clean, and to reopen facilities as quickly as possible.
BROOM has been tested extensively. An exercise last year, conducted in collaboration with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), took place at Sandia's Albuquerque site and involved a release of a harmless simulant used to mimic a biological agent. Officials with NIOSH, which establishes standards and methods for biological sampling, were impressed with the product and recommended only minor changes to the BROOM software. "In fact, they want to further evaluate BROOM by using it in their future sampling operations —€” both those that involve biological agents and those that involve more routine sampling operations for investigations of occupational hazards," said Sandia researcher Mark Tucker.
In addition, a two-day demonstration event featuring BROOM took place earlier this year at San Francisco International Airport. Some 120 officials from around the nation took part, including representatives