DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Three of the U.S. Department of Defense's top scientific leaders toured Dugway's Life Sciences laboratories, May 17, in preparation for the facility's transfer of authority to the Research, Development and Engineering Command in Aberdeen, Md.
Visiting the facility was Maj. Gen. Brian C. Lein, commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command at Fort Detrick, Md., Dr. August W. Fountain acting director, Research and Technology, Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center, and Col. Neal C. Wollen, director of biosecurity, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The on-site visit was a chance for the executive leadership to become familiar with the facility they will inherit. It was also an opportunity for Dugway leaders to ask questions about their vision and changes for the operations of the Life Sciences facility.
Lein, who has also served as deputy surgeon general, said he hoped for a "robust discussion about the future of the test mission." This led to detailed discussion about the resources and the facilities' capabilities.
Dugway's Life Sciences purpose has always been to protect America from biological threats, whether it be natural, accidental, or deliberate in nature. These initiatives included: outbreak recognition and avoidance, pathogen characterization, and medical countermeasures. Much of this will carry over to the new command.
The discussion began with the general and his party's initial visit, but the general and his party will this conversation continue over the weeks to come, before the actual transfer date.
"We might go through a few growing pains," Lein said of the changes that will take
place. "But we'll get there together," he promised.
"For decades, the Life Sciences facility has been a major resource for testing biological defenses: detectors, decontaminators, decontaminants, air and water filtration, sampling methodology, and protective clothing, which will still be part of the mission," the general assured.
The tour focused on a walk-through of the facilities and the discussion about the layers of security needed for the laboratories to keep advancing their mission. Layers included physical, storage of equipment, and the security processes of the scientists and other experts at the test facility.
The tour began with the Whole System Live Agent Test (WSLAT) chamber. The high capacity aerosol chamber was developed for testing biological point detection technologies.
The WSLAT is designed to allow the whole point detector structure to be tested at the same time, without removing its individual components. Eventually, it will validate the Joint Biological Point Detector System, known as JBPDS, and other field biological point detectors, said Kar Wing Tsang the microbiologist who helped design the WSLAT.
The general and his team were impressed by the size of the chamber, stopping several times to examine various facets, properties, and portions of its design. The heart of the chamber is a large stainless steel inner chamber that is 23 feet long, 13 feet wide and nearly nine feet high. The chamber will identify and warn of the presence of biological agent aerosols.
The tour also included the Life Science administrative areas and a few of the smaller labs, with isolation and containment gloveboxes, before branching off to the new Life Science annex.
The annex's design is enterprising, and includes redundant safety and security measures. Its astute layout will make it easy for scientists to share advanced protocols and track reference materials, logs, and other logistical data. The annex's size more than doubles the current testing area.
Lein noted that advancing technology makes it urgent to support long term development of defensive countermeasures for biological threats.
"The goal is to keep the Life Sciences facility at the forefront of the biological test and evaluation community," Lein said.
Every safety precaution has been addressed including continuous directional airflow, which draws air into the laboratory from clean areas; the exhaust air cannot be recirculated, said Angelo Madonna, the Dugway microbiologist who led the tour. He noted that access to the general building corridors have self-closing and locking doors.
"This ensures that all laboratories are restricted and controlled at all times," he said.
The team's final actions will be to formulate guidance, make recommendations, and create a schedule for the change of responsibility within the up-coming months.
"Excellent visit," Wollen said. "This was a great way to interact with the workforce and lay the foundation for our future endeavors."