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Potential terrorist attacks pose a significant national concern. Attacks could involve dispersing toxic gases or bioterrorism agents (e.g., bacteria that cause plague) through the air. UT Arlington is capable of helping regions prepare for, respond to, and mitigate such potential acts of airborne terrorism, as well as non-terrorist related airborne releases of toxic chemicals.

Dispersion modeling can be used to predict how far toxic gases or bioterrorism agents will travel from a release point, and what ambient concentrations will be. Thus, the number of people exposed to potentially dangerous levels can be determined, and areas that need to be evacuated can be identified.

Examples of scenarios where dispersion modeling would be useful for planning responses include:

  • Release of biological terrorism agents from a truck, train, or building;
  • Release or spill of toxic chemicals from manufacturing, storage, or end-use facilities, or during transportation (e.g., from a truck or train);
  • Release of chlorine gas from a water or wastewater treatment facility.

Dispersion modeling case-studies performed ahead of time can help cities, counties, and other emergency response organizations analyze organizational readiness, identify steps necessary to implement emergency management responses, and identify organizational vulnerabilities.

In addition, specially adapted dispersion modeling software can be used real-time to predict airborne transport of toxic gases or bioterrorism agents to aid emergency response personnel in the event of an actual attack/release.

Dispersion modeling can also be used to determine locations for monitors for chemical and biological agents to define the magnitude and location of an attack/release.


Much of the response to a bioterrorist attack would occur at the local level.

GAO report 2003 - Officials reported deficiencies in capacity, communication, and coordination elements essential to preparedness and response, such as workforce shortages, inadequacies in disease surveillance and laboratory systems, and a lack of regional coordination and compatible communications systems.  State officials also expressed a desire for more sharing of best practices.