After five years of development, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has greenlit an automated, networked radiation detection system known as SIGMA for use by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, promising new protections for the region.
In theory, the system is capable of providing counterterrorism support through constant monitoring for threats, both radiological and nuclear. It has proved as much in testing at the port authority, which DARPA credits for the program’s quick deployment. Since its transition before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, DARPA has further developed and tested sensors for SIGMA, seeking to add chemical, biological, and explosive threat detection to its list of capabilities as well.
“New York City and Northern New Jersey have some of the nation’s most critical transportation infrastructure – heavily trafficked tunnels, bridges, airports, train and bus stations, and ferry terminals,” Dave Warrington, senior manager for strategic preparedness in the Port Authority’s Office of Emergency Management, said. “This unique partnership with DARPA was mutually beneficial – DARPA had access to our transportation nodes to collect real background radiological data for developing the system, and the Port Authority now has a network of high-performance stationary, vehicle-mounted, and wearable sensors providing enhanced, 24-hour nuclear and radiological threat detection.”
According to users of the system, it’s user friendly, based on an app-like Android interface. Officials and first responders can use it to track alerts and threats in real-time, allowing for enhanced coordination. The system also doesn’t sacrifice power for portability. It’s versatile, based in worn, portable sensors, vehicular mounted sensors, and stationary sensors at key transportation nodes. It can also be constantly improved through regular software updates.