Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

A biological warfare agent is a microorganism or a toxin derived from a living organism that causes disease in humans, plants, or animals. Defense against an intentional release of such agents would be enhanced greatly if the agent could be detected well before it reaches its target population. The development of reliable biological standoff detection systems, therefore, is a key goal. However, testing the effectiveness of biological standoff detection systems is difficult because open-air field tests with biological warfare agents are not permitted under international conventions. In addition, the wide variety of environments in which detectors might be used may affect their performance. This report, produced at the request of the Department of Defense, explores current and future needs and capabilities for the test and evaluation of biological standoff detection systems. The report recommends the Department of Defense require an integrated approach to development, testing, and evaluation that includes a better understanding of the relationship between detection signals and properties of biological aerosols, and a testing framework that incorporates modeling and simulation, uncertainty quantification, and laboratory, tunnel, and open-air testing with surrogates for live agents. The testing and evaluation community should design its tests based on specific performance requirements of the system under different conditions. The report also recommends that the Department of Defense encourage multidisciplinary collaboration within the biological testing community.

Key Messages

  • Current understanding of the relationship between detection signals and the properties of biological aerosols is insufficient to allow reliable correlation between surrogates and agents.
  • Referee systems need to be more accurate and precise than the system under test.
  • The Department of Defense requires an integrated approach to development, testing, and evaluation of biological standoff detection systems.