The Department of Homeland Security this week issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking comments from industry on available technologies for a new national biological threat detection system that would replace the BioWatch system, which began deployments in 2003 to major urban areas following a spate of anthrax attacks in 2001 done through the mail.

The Biological Detection for the 21st Century (BD21) system of systems effort that will be overseen by the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office has been approved to proceed to the analyze and select phase of the DHS acquisition life-cycle, says the 12-page RFI that was posted Sept. 4 on the federal government procurement website.

For the analyze/select phase, the technology prototypes must be at near planned operational system for demonstration in an operational environment.

The information gathered from the RFI will be used to form an acquisition strategy for BD21 and to support an independent analysis of alternatives.

The BioWatch system includes biological aerosol sample collectors located in outdoor and indoor locations in more than 30 major urban areas around the U.S. Samples are collected at different times throughout the day and taken to local and regional laboratories for analysis to check if any potential biological threats are present in the environment.

BioWatch isn’t considered timely, given the potential for a day or more lag between the time an aerosolized threat may be introduced into the environment and when a particular biological hazard such as anthrax is actually discovered through sample analysis.

DHS in the past failed to deliver a higher-technology solution that could obtain warnings of potential threats in near-real time and BD21 is a new effort that aims to take advantage of more recent advances in biological detection technologies.

“BD21 is intended to replace the currently fielded BioWatch system with a capability that is more cost effective, significantly timelier, and less duplicative of other agency mission spaces,” the CWMD Office says in the RFI. It also says that “BD21 will be a system-of-systems that provides detection of a widespread release of aerosolized microorganisms to state, local, and federal agencies. The BD21 system(s) will be designed to be interoperable with information architectures at all levels of government, enabling common understanding of situational awareness across the affected mission space by the appropriate agencies at all levels of government.”

The key attributes the program management office is seeking for BD21 include anomaly detection, near-real-time detection, indoor and outdoor coverage, geographic coverage, various incident parameters such as detection time, location and particle count, and the ability to “integrate active and passive surveillance activities and information.”

The CWMD Office wants respondents to address at least one of five component categories: environmental monitoring, collection systems, field biological identifiers, anomaly detection tools, and systems integration.

Responses are due by Sept. 27.