On December 16, 2014, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a public request for information (RFI) seeking technologies relevant to the automated detection and identification of air-borne biological agents. This release sparks movement for DHS’s efforts to drastically improve the BioWatch Program, which has been slumbering for the past two years. The BioWatch Program was established in 2003, as a means to address the ever-increasing threat of bioterrorism. BioWatch’s goal, according to the DHS is, “to detect the presence of biological agents of concern in a timely manner and identify the target agents with a high degree of confidence.”
In 2001, on the heels of the 9/11 terror attacks, the public became aware of bio-terrorism after several cases of inhalation anthrax were reported. Twenty-two people became ill after envelopes filled with a white powder containing anthrax spores were mailed to two U.S. Senators. Five of the 22 who came in contact with the envelopes died. While there have been no reports of inhalation anthrax being used as a bio-terrorism agent since 2001, the threat remains strong. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), rates anthrax as a “Tier 1” threat, meaning its biological agents and toxins present the highest risk for deliberate misuse, possessing the ability to yield mass casualties, cripple the economy and infrastructure, diminish public morale, and cause a severe threat to public health and safety. Anthrax is one of over 40 agents the CDC has on its bio-terrorism watch list.
Advancements in Bio-Detection
DHS is primed to release the next generation of BioWatch, bolstered by the latest and greatest technological advancements in the field of biodetection. The recently released RFI calls for a “cost-effective autonomous biological detection solution.” Necessary capabilities include speed, fully autonomous operation, a high level of accuracy, and consistent identification and preservation of multiple biological agents. One corporation who has managed to check off all of DHS’ must-haves for the new face of BioWatch is PositiveID (OTCQB: PSID).
PositiveID Corporation’s M-BAND (Microfluidic Bio-agent Autonomous Networked Detector) is a state-of-the-art, fully automated airborne pathogen detection system. Roughly the size of an a/c unit, it can be installed in transportation facilities, arenas, malls, stadiums, amusement parks, office buildings and more. The product of $30 million in funding provided by DHS, M-BAND is currently being field-tested by the Department of Defense (DOD) in South Korea and on military bases in the States. Having a working rapport with the DOD and building from DHS’ funding, PositiveID’s M-BAND sits pretty as an ideal candidate for the next generation of BioWatch. Here are some of its distinguishing features:
- operates autonomously on a 30-day cycle.
- provides results in 3 to 6 hours.
- all data transmissions are sent via a secure wireless network to an off-site monitoring facility in real time.
- able to detect multiple organisms and toxins simultaneously.
- analyzes and stores samples for up to 30 days.
Current DHS BioWatch equipment requires manual, daily monitoring. A technician is sent into the field to retrieve air filters that are then sent to a laboratory for analysis – a 36 to 48 hour process.
M-BAND’s point-of-need capabilities will revolutionize the field of bio-detection and aid the DHS in providing timely, cost-effective and life-saving monitoring and security.
In March 2014, PositiveID joined forces with United Technologies Aerospace Systems (UTAS), to provide M-BAND units for the DOD’s JUPITR Program. The Joint United States Forces Korea Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition (JUPITR) Program is currently testing M-BAND’s prospective capabilities in aiding U.S. Armed Forces. The JUPITR contract is predicted to net PositiveID $1 million in 2014-15 alone. The U.S. government’s next generation BioWatch Program contract has been predicted to be worth between $3-5 billion. PositiveID has previously announced that they have an exclusive teaming and licensing agreement in place with The Boeing Company related to BioWatch. With M-BAND systems already being operated and tested by the military and only one other model available that potentially meets BioWatch’s RFI requirements, PositiveID is in a great position to secure the deal.
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