Grants Spur Demand for Anti-Terrorist Software Tools

Grants Spur Demand for Anti-Terrorist Software Tools

Randy Ridley

By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer

A federal program to help state and local governments combat biological, chemical and nuclear attacks by terrorists could boost the prospects for companies such as PLG Inc.

PLG makes software that allows officials in an urban setting to respond quickly to a terrorist attack by mapping out in detail where deadly agents are concentrated and where they are likely to spread, company officials said.

"There's not a single part of the problem you can't view with this system," said Randy Ridley, director of federal programs in PLG's Alexandria, Va., office. Potential users include fire departments and hazardous material units as well as specialized counterterrorist forces.

In the next 12 months, the company expects to sell the software to more than 100 cities and municipalities, he said. PLG officials also are talking with city or municipal governments that intend to apply for federal monies to purchase a full software configuration that comes equipped with sensors, said Ridley.

PLG has about 50 employees and provides a variety of risk management services, specializing in emergency response. The bulk of its business is with industry and customers. It is a subsidiary of EQE International, a privately held company in Oakland, Calif., with annual revenue of more than $50 million.

The software, called Meteorological Information and Dispersion Assessment System - Anti-Terrorism, or MIDAS-AT, was developed in 1997 for the Marine Corps' Chemical Biological Incident Response Force. This elite unit of 354 Marines responds to worldwide crises.

A version of the software released in March can be customized for use by cities and states seeking to improve their response to chemical accidents and attacks. PLG officials hope to capitalize on the hundreds of millions of dollars that the federal government is pouring into state and local governments for equipment and training to address the threat of attacks involving weapons of mass destruction.

Congress appropriated $24 million in fiscal year 1998 and $118 million in 1999, and the Clinton administration has requested $171 million in funding grants in 2000, said Glenda Kendrick, deputy director for congressional and public affairs in the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs. Roughly $12 million of that money went toward equipment purchases in 1998, with $85.5 million allocated for equipment in 1999.

The Marines purchased MIDAS-AT at a cost of $1.8 million, which covered upgrades, training and some of the development costs, said Marty Erickson, project manager for the Marines' Chemical Biological Incident Response Force.

The price tag for cities will be considerably lower, said Ridley. He declined to give a specific figure because the company is in the midst of negotiating with the General Services Administration sales of MIDAS-AT to federal agencies on the GSA schedule.

Erickson said that when the Marines purchased their system, the software was the only commercially available software for an urban environment. But he said other companies are likely to develop similar systems now that the grant program has stimulated demand for anti-terrorist equipment.

Nevertheless, PLG officials said their experience in developing MIDAS-AT gives them a substantial head start over potential competitors.

Congress recently restricted the type of equipment that can be purchased this year under the grant program, but Ridley is confident that MIDAS-AT will qualify as an integrated solution when used with sensors and other detection equipment.

"Congress is just trying to make sure that the grants aren't used to make tangential purchases that have nothing to do with anti-terrorism," he said.

MIDAS-AT can be customized to map the urban terrain of a specific city. This is important because the location and shape of buildings create canyon-like effects that, along with wind and other elements of weather, determine how a cloud of deadly agents will spread, said Ridley.

The software tool also can model the inside layout and generic characteristics of buildings, a feature that allows officials to analyze quickly a spill or attack inside a building, such as a large government office, national landmark or subway platforms.

The package has a database of chemical and biological agents and uses live feeds of weather data and other information for its hazard predictions. Color graphics depict different levels of contamination in real-time and project future levels in 10-minute increments.

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