By: Chris O'Shea
The NYPD is about to gas New York's subway system. According to an official police press release, a colorless, odorless gas will be sent into the subway on three separate dates in July, in an effort to see how a possible chemical terrorist attack would impact the city. The experiment comes courtesy of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, which is using a multi-million dollar grant from the Department of Homeland Security to make it all happen.
Going by the press release, the largest police force in the country (or at leas the media relations division) seems pretty excited about the testing. Whoever penned the PR masterpiece is quick to note that the gassing will "the first of its scale to study airflow in a dense, complex urban environment both below and above-ground." Researchers will monitor the gas in the subway system and above ground. But monitoring with what exactly? Here's the NYPD's explanation of what will be floating through the air: "Perfluorocarbon tracer gases (PFTs) present no health or environmental hazard. They are non-toxic, inert, odorless, and invisible, and have been used in airflow studies since the 1980s, including a 2005 Urban Dispersion Program (UDP) conducted in Manhattan. PFTs also are used in medical applications including eye surgeries and artificial breathing systems."
Adding to the enthusiasm for the study was Ray Kelly, the NYPD's commissioner. "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," Kelly explained. "This field study with Brookhaven's outstanding expertise will help prepare and safeguard the city's population in the event of an actual attack." Flyers are currently popping up all over the city's subway system, because “Anytime the words ‘spread of gas in the subways’ are strung together, while in this instance harmless, a public explanation is required," Deputy Commissioner and NYPD spokesman Paul Browne explained to The New York Times last month.
This is all great stuff from the NYPD, but uh, have they ever been in the subway? There is no shot they're stopping anyone from doing anything. It's just too massive and there are simply too many people using it every second of the day. In one of the most famous examples of this, in 1966, the Army sent undercover researchers into the subway to test how bacteria would react/spread. The teams dropped the bacteria all over the subway, and through subway grates. No one cared. "When the cloud engulfed people, they brushed their clothing, looked up at the grating apron and walked on,” wrote Leonard Cole in Clouds of Secrecy, a book about the Army's chemical experiments. Police didn't even notice the Army guys either, as only one scientist was questioned... But only because he happened to be smoking a cigarette. It wasn't until years later that the Army even told the NYPD that the experiment took place.
This gas test is taking up millions that could be better used in other areas, like, oh, making sure there's not trash everywhere. But nope! The NYPD wants to impress people who are naive enough to believe that the police could stop a terrorist gas attack on the subway. Browne and Kelly really do think that ignorance is bliss.
[Pic via Flickr - Magic Robot]