The Department of Homeland Security Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office is moving forward with its plan for a next-generation national bio-detection system to the second stage of the acquisition life-cycle and is seeking feedback from industry on its ability to meet notional requirements.

The CWMD Office on Feb. 1 released a Request for Information (RFI) for its potential acquisition of a Biological Detection for the 21st Century (BD21) system of systems, saying the program has been approved to enter the Analyze/Select phase, during which the program manager reviews alternative approaches to meeting the need and recommends the best option to the decision authority.

The BD21 team will also host a virtual industry day on March 18 for interested vendors.

BD21 will replace the legacy BioWatch bio-detection system, which is deployed in more than 30 urban centers around the U.S. The BioWatch system, stood up after 9/11, relies on aerosol sample collectors in indoor and outdoor locations that are manually retrieved on a regular basis and sent to local laboratories to analyze for the presence of potentially deadly biological agents.

The BioWatch system is expensive to maintain and doesn’t provide results in real-time, inhibiting rapid response efforts in the event of a deadly biological attack.

“BD21 is pursuing a next-generation capability to fulfill validated DHS bio-detection capability gaps and support the eventual recapitalization of the fielded BioWatch capability,” the RFI says. “The BD21 team envisions an end state featuring a national bio-surveillance system that includes real-time bio-detection functionality to facilitate rapid response.”

DHS has tried more than once without success to replace BioWatch with technology that can continuously monitor for, and detect, potential threats and alert authorities in real-time to enable a timely response. The department has been criticized in the past for ignoring the state and local stakeholders in developing the requirements for a replacement system.

DHS in its RFI says “The data gathered from BD21 instruments must effectively inform the decision making of responders and other stakeholders. Accordingly, stakeholders will be integrally involved with, and contribute to, the development of the systems and technologies that will produce the alert used in other places to which they must respond.”

A system description included in the RFI says the concept for BD21 includes the use of portable equipment for on-site screening and “timely delivery” of samples for laboratory analysis. The initial increment will focus on “highly populated” indoor locations, anomaly detection, field screening and sample retrieval. If the detection algorithm finds an anomaly, the deployed system would alert the local response network, which would send a first responder with the field screening device to provide initial analysis and to collect samples and bring them to the laboratory response lab for analysis.

BD21 would provide more coverage of at-risk indoor venues than does BioWatch, the RFI says.

Research and development will continue for outdoor environments, it says.

The critical technology elements of the bio-detection system of systems include the collector, the trigger, which will provide data on the amount of biological material in the collector, a sensor and trigger agnostic anomaly algorithm, a control module that provides alerts and diagnostics, and the field screening device. Related peripheral elements include threat data storage to record data generated by the system and other devices that give context around a particular BD21 unit or collection events.

A key challenge for industry is that all the elements must be integrated.