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‘BioWatch’ to be operated at Olympics opening ceremony

‘BioWatch’ to be operated at Olympics opening ceremony

Posted January. 05, 2018 09:32,   

Updated January. 05, 2018 09:51


During the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, cutting-edge equipment that can detect in real time germs such as Bacillus anthracis as small as 0.001mm in diameter will be operated. If a biological attack takes place at the venue of the opening ceremony, where almost 40,000 people including distinguished guests from participating countries, athletes and the audience gather, the extent of the damage will be just unimaginable. That is why the government aims to completely eliminate any threats including germs and viruses that can be a danger to the Olympics.

It is found Thursday that the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (KCDC) is planning to install “BioWatch” that can detect germs and viruses at the Olympic Stadium, Mountain Cluster and the Gangneung Ice Arena from February 9 to March 18, during which the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics take place. BioWatch was first introduced in May last year when the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup was held in Korea.

BioWatch can detect a particle in the air that is as small as 1μm (micrometer, one millionth of a meter) in diameter. It automatically collects particles in the air when its sensor detects more than certain amount of particles released in the air by recognizing their scattering pattern. The detection result is transmitted to the terror response team in real time. This is an upgrade version of the BioWatch used in the United States, which requires the staff to manually open the equipment to check the detection of a virus.

If the detected particle is found to be a pathogen, including Bacillus anthracis, potential victims will urgently be treated with antibiotics. If a person breathes in Bacillus anthracis, he or she experiences symptoms such as high fever and severe abdominal pain the next day and can even die due to septic shock in 5~20% of cases. The survival rate increases if a victim is vaccinated or treated with antibiotics in initial stage. In the United States, five people died and 17 people were sickened due to the anthrax attacks in September 2001.

Jamming and false alarms, however, are hurdles to preventing biological attacks using BioWatch. In large scale events, jamming equipment are used to prevent drone terror attacks. In the process, signals for BioWatch, which is wireless equipment, can possibly be blocked as well. Therefore, discussions are underway to use wired version instead.

BioWatch sounds an alarm even when it detects large amount of biological particles that are non-harmful to human. This is where improvements need to be made. There were six false alarms during the 2017 U-20 World Cup. The crowd swarming out of the stadium during the break time or people smoking caused the equipment to sound false alarms. “We have trained in preparation for unexpected events and local climate and improved the equipment to prevent malfunction,” said Kim Joo-sim, director of the Biological Terror Response Team at the KCDC.

Gun-Hee Cho becom@donga.com