Biodetection Technology Resource for First Responders

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory determines the best technologies and techniques used by first responders to detect and identify suspicious powders and unknown substances during a potential bioresponse event.

Photo of people in hazmat suits.

Photo: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) partners with the Department of Homeland Security, industry, and the first-responder community to improve the effectiveness and safety during biodetection responses. Our experts assess biodetection equipment and technologies used when responding to potential biological incidents involving suspicious, and potentially deadly, white powders, and other unknown substances, such anthrax, ricin, and fentanyl and its analogs. We independently evaluate current products as well as emerging biotechnologies technologies, ranging from general test kits (e.g., protein tests) to agent-specific platforms (e.g., immunoassays).

Developing biodetection standards

PNNL's biodetection research informs strategies and guidelines for the effective, safe use of technologies in the field. For example, our fentanyl handling and detection experts are helping to assess the performance of detection equipment used by first responders to quickly detect fentanyl and its analogs. In fact, PNNL created the first use and limitation American Society for Testing and Materials standard for field detection equipment that measures samples suspected of containing fentanyl. 

Our biodetection work also includes expanding the library of known variants of hazard substances, such as fentanyl and its analogs. Police, hazardous materials teams, and other first responders can use this information to quickly identify and understand suspicious substances they encounter in the field.

Biodetection product guide

PNNL's Biodetection Product Guide summarizes a number of commercially available technologies that can be used by first responders in the field for the collection, screening, and identification of biological materials. This guide is intended to provide useful information about available technologies to help first responders make informed decisions about bio-detection technology procurement and use. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list, nor an endorsement of any technology described herein.