Jack Uldrich
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Safety Equipment: Vast Room for Improvement

Posted in Manufacturing


The threat of a major terrorist attack is generally downplayed in most people’s minds. This is short-sighted. Last year it was suggested that the probablity of a major terrorist attack—in the form of a chemical, biological or nuclear attack—occuring within the next 10 years was 50 percent. Fifty percent!

As a result of this inattention, this country is investing few resources in developing next-generation detection equipment that could help prevent such attacks. And we are investing even less in developing and manufacturing equipment and technology that could assist society in the event of an attack.

Three specific reports from this past week highlight just how much more we could be doing. On Friday, it was reported that researchers at MIT are developing bacterial chemical sensors—sensors that could theoretically change color in the presense of dangerous materials. Given the vulnerability of both our ports and our food supply infrastructure, a modest investment in advancing this technology (and other related technologies) seems warranted.

This past week also witnessed reports on the development of “nano-paper”—a super-paper that is stronger than cast iron—and a breakthrough in carbon-nanotube technology which could provide the foundation for a hyper-efficient filter. Both technologies have a host of applications in emergency management situations, although they are not simply limited to assisting after a major terrorist attack.

Consider the situation in Iowa where flooding is threatening millions of acres and putting thousands of people at risk. The development of barriers constructed from nano-papers could make levies stronger and longer-lasting; and the creation of carbon-nanotube filters could ease concerns over contaminated drinking water.

Before such technologies can be deployed in such a systemic way, however, it is first essential that these promising technologies don’t languish in the laboratory. It would be a shame to realize—after a terrorist attack—that protective detection and safety equipment did exist but we did little to rush it to market.

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