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Sniff, Robot

Will the mysterious mechanical nostrils installed around Grand Central Terminal really protect us?

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What are these oddly menacing devices dangling over the arches in Grand Central Terminal? Vices for lobotomy surgery? Interstellar cake mixers? According to city officials, the gizmos are the latest high-tech pilot study in “BioWatch,” an ongoing, multi-million-dollar Department of Homeland Security program to check for possibly deadly airborne particles. Several so-called sniffers have already been deployed in and around Grand Central (including in the food court downstairs) to detect signs of biological agents like anthrax. MTA spokesman Tom Kelly says these new contraptions monitor airflow to better identify “sweet spots” inside the terminal where plumes can be detected by sensors (which are designed to transmit in real time to a monitoring center). City anti-terror officials say the testing is necessary because airborne attacks are difficult to detect. “In a biological event, there is no smoking gun,” says Jarrod Bernstein, spokesman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management. The city currently keeps tabs on emergency rooms and tracks over-the-counter drugs to look for signs of victims of undetected attacks. Neither the OEM nor the MTA would comment on how much these gadgets cost. Should you feel safer? “They’re trying to stay ahead of the curve, and it’s the right thing to do,” says Jerome Hauer, a former director of the city’s OEM. “But real-time bio detection? It’s just not there yet.”


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