Expanding Chemical Threat Awareness

Dr. Shannon Fox
Laboratory Director
Chemical Security Analysis Center
Science & Technology Directorate
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

From S&B and CST/CBRNE, Winter/Spring 2020

Dr. Shannon Fox is Director of the Chemical Security Analysis Center (CSAC), a government-owned and government-operated laboratory of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T).

After joining the CSAC team in 2007, Dr. Fox led the Jack Rabbit I and II Programs, which involved 19 large-scale outdoor release experiments of chlorine and ammonia ranging from 1 to 20 tons conducted with a multi-agency team of partners. In 2019, Dr. Fox became the Director of CSAC and currently leads an extraordinary team of scientists and staff providing DHS and the broader Homeland Security Enterprise with an enduring science-based chemical threat and risk analysis capability. Under Dr. Fox’s leadership, the CSAC team continues to transition critical assessments, products, and resources to government and private-sector stakeholders supporting and enhancing the nation’s emergency preparedness, response, and risk mitigation for domestic chemical threats and incidents.

Prior to joining CSAC, Dr. Fox led numerous projects and programs for the U.S. government to understand and reduce the domestic risk from toxic chemicals, including chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals, and emerging threats.

Dr. Fox completed his Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Chemistry from the University of North Carolina Asheville in 1995, and earned his doctorate degree in Analytical Chemistry from University of Tennessee in 2003.

CST & CBRNE spoke recently with Dr. Shannon Fox, Lab Director, Chemical Security Analysis Center (CSAC), S&T Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), regarding some current focus areas DHS has tasked CSAC to explore.

CST & CBRNE: Provide some brief background on CSAC’s origins and any evolution in mission to present.

Dr. Fox: In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) established the Chemical Security Analysis Center (CSAC) as one of five S&T laboratories providing a centralized research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) function for the Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE). The CSAC serves as the nation’s only federal study, analysis, and knowledge management center for assessing the threat and hazard associated with an accidental or intentional chemical event or chemical terrorism event in the United States.

Located in the Edgewood area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, CSAC supports DHS and the broader Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE) by providing an enduring chemical threat and risk analysis capability, maintaining a 24/7 Technical Assistance program to provide operational support and subject matter expertise for chemical threats, designing and executing laboratory and field tests, and providing a comprehensive knowledge repository of chemical threat information, synthesized and continuously updated with data from scientific, intelligence, operational, and private-sector sources.

CST & CBRNE: As CBRN threats to national security continue to persist, talk about current DHS priorities in chemical analysis.

Dr. Fox: The CSAC mission and priority is to assess and address the domestic risk from acutely toxic chemicals, including toxic industrial chemicals (TICs), chemical warfare agents (CWAs), non-traditional agents (NTAs), and pharmaceutical-based agents (PBAs).

CST & CBRNE: With the need to provide proactive information across multi-level response coordination, how is CSAC working to advance predictive analysis based on likely threat profiles?

Dr. Fox: CSAC utilizes extensive in-house chemical hazard prediction models, tools, and capabilities to provide DHS components, federal agencies, state and local partners, academia, and private entities with actionable risk assessments, threat characterizations, and scientific insights. For example the CSAC developed a sophisticated Chemical Consequence and Threat (CCAT) desktop tool which it uses to evaluate the severity of a chemical event and the impact of various response and mitigation strategies. Tools such as the CCAT are used by CSAC and its partners and stakeholders to shape their planning and decision-making, strengthening the overall chemical security of the U.S. For example, in December 2019, CSAC responded to a request from the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) to conduct a tailored assessment of potential chemical threats to the Times Square New Year’s Eve (NYE) celebration.

CST & CBRNE: From a mass casualty response perspective, what are some CSAC focus areas?

Dr. Fox: Large-scale toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) chemical releases which have the potential to cause mass casualties are a priority focus. For the last decade, CSAC has been leading the Project Jack Rabbit field testing, which most recently involved multiple 5 to 20-ton outdoor chlorine release experiments to collect critical data for improved modeling, emergency response, and industrial safety. Toxic gas-forming chemical reactions are another current focus area due to the risk posed to aviation and soft targets. CSAC is working with partners in the interagency and international communities to conduct research, experimentation, and modeling necessary to characterize and protect against these potential threats. Fentanyl and synthetic opioids have also recently emerged as priority focus area for the CSAC due to the enormous impact the nation has experienced as a result of the opioid epidemic.