March 22, 2002

BASIS employees honored for their work

About 45 employees who deployed a biological detection system at February’s Winter Olympics and in other U.S. cities were honored last week.

The outdoor ceremony, part of the Biology and Biotechnology Research Program’s employee awards, was held March 14 on the lawn area in front of Bldg. 361.

Employees who operated or assisted in the deployments of the Biological Aerosol Sentry and Information System, or BASIS, at the Winter Olympics and in other locations received a plaque and gift certificate. Those recognized came from four directorates — BBRP, NAI, Engineering and Computations.

"The BASIS capability was originally developed for the Olympics as a demonstration," said acting BBRP Associate Director Bert Weinstein.

"Once the anthrax attacks hit, this experimental system was suddenly in high demand. Overnight, people were asked to transform the demonstration system into a real deployed biological defense system," Weinstein added.

The deployments of Lab employees in Salt Lake City or other locations have ranged from two weeks to as long as three months.
Weinstein, who visited the BASIS team during their deployments, recalled that those Lab employees were "pleased" to be working only 12-hour shifts after initially pulling much longer stints.

"Conducting deployments at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games have been a tremendous learning experience for our biodefense efforts. We learned some of the strengths and weaknesses of our technology, as well as how to make improvements for the next round," Weinstein said. "We also acquired experience in how to work with the multitude of agencies involved in a complex event like the Olympics."

Several of the team members expressed their gratitude at being able to do something for the nation, Weinstein noted.
One of the problems faced by the BASIS team was that even though the employees were on another deployment, they had to start setting up an operation in Salt Lake City in January for the Winter Olympics.

"The last weeks of 2001 were a frenzy as our workers acquired new computers and lab gear and prepared everything for shipment," said Tom Slezak, bioinformatics leader for the BASIS team.

"Our previous deployment had given the Computations developers enough experience to improve the error-checking software for the Lab data entry system so that they only needed one Computations person on-site for the Olympics at most times," Slezak added.

Developed by researchers at Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories, BASIS consists of a network of sampling units, similar to those used by the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor air quality, and to collect and check aerosols. Filters capture aerosols and are then collected for analysis several times a day.

At the heart of BASIS is a transportable field laboratory where collected samples are analyzed using the most reliable and sensitive identification techniques available. The samples are analyzed using DNA-based techniques that have been validated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

BASIS reduces the time for detecting a bioagent release from days or weeks to less than a day, allowing public health officials to have much more rapid warning.