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How a new tabletop tool provides proactive detection for COVID-19 and other pathogens

The portable BioFlash Biological Identifier can detect and identify the presence of low levels of aerosolized COVID-19 in any part of your facility

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The coronavirus continues to cause problems in jails and prisons. The BioFlash Biological Identifier from Smiths Detection can be used to address the risk with continuous passive monitoring of an area for the virus, screening an area prior to entry to ensure that a space is safe or determining whether a space is safe to reenter after a positive COVID-19 case.


Sponsored by Smiths Detection

By Philip J. Swift for Corrections1 BrandFocus

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the country, the primary means of limiting transmission and preventing illness were social distancing, wearing a mask, proper hand-washing and immediate medical attention at the onset of symptoms.

To most, following these directions was easy and became part of their day-to-day routines, but what if you could not socially distance? What if you were routinely exposed to individuals that were at a high risk of infection, there was a limited ability to segregate the sick, and you could not easily control the number of people in a confined space?

As frightening as this scenario sounds, that was the scenario facing administrators, staff and detainees within the nation’s detention, jail and prison systems. Although many facilities acted quickly to reduce the number of incarcerated people, hundreds of thousands of detainees have tested positive for COVID-19, and since mid-2021, the number of detainees has begun to rise again, even though many of the COVID-related problems that plagued detention facilities at the beginning of the pandemic continue.


As with any airborne biological threat, the most significant barrier to controlling its spread is determining who is infected, who is capable of spreading it and whether there is enough of the biological threat present in the air to cause others in the area to become infected.

Based on typical and often outdated structural and ventilation designs of many facilities and the transient nature of the population, identifying infected individuals and maintaining an environment free of biological threats can be tedious at best, resulting in a risk of contamination anytime multiple detainees or staff members share a space.

Outside of personal protection strategies, such as hand-washing and wearing personal protection equipment, best practices for containing or limiting the spread of airborne biological threats require the routine sterilization of work and living spaces, with particular attention to areas recently occupied by an infectious person.

However, disinfecting an area efficiently requires that:

  1. Areas that are contaminated can be easily identified.
  2. Sterilization/decontamination processes are efficient and remove pathogens and viruses from all contaminated surfaces.
  3. Airborne biological threats can be removed from the air, or the air can be tested to determine the level of contamination.
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The portable BioFlash Biological Identifier from Smiths Detection uses a cell-based biosensor and aerosol collection technology for rapid, sensitive and specific identification of airborne biological threats, including viruses like COVID-19.

Smiths Detection

Assuming contaminated areas can be identified and those areas can be sterilized thoroughly, most facilities are not equipped to filter the air in a facility prior to allowing individuals to occupy the space after cleaning.

On top of the inability to filter airborne biological threats out of the environment, most facilities are not equipped to test air quality in an efficient and timely manner. This technological gap limits the facility’s ability to proactively address airborne biological threats prior to an outbreak, outside of the strictest medical protocols, which detention facilities cannot sustain.


To address this gap and to help facilities immediately address the potential of airborne biological threats within enclosed environments, Smiths Detection has developed the BioFlash Biological Identifier, powered by CANARY biological detection technology (a cell-based biosensor) combined with aerosol-collection techniques to provide rapid, sensitive and specific identification of airborne biological threats including viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19), bacteria and toxins.

To identify the presence of live, airborne SARS-CoV-2, the BioFlash Biological Identifier must first collect a sufficient air sample from the area in question. (This can take from 15 minutes to three hours, depending on the size of the area.) Once collection is complete, analysis takes just two minutes to provide the results and potentially alert the operator to the presence of even low levels of aerosolized virus – with an extremely low false positive rate.

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The BioFlash Biological Identifier can detect and identify the presence of low levels of aerosolized COVID-19 within two minutes.

Smiths Detection

The unit is self-contained in a durable, compact tabletop-sized device that is easily transported wherever it is needed, enabling facilities to respond rapidly to new or emerging airborne biological threats. It is easy to use and decontaminate as well.

The BioFlash Biological Identifier is suitable for the unique challenges that jails, detention and correction facilities face – specifically the ability to test for airborne biological threats in areas of varying size and population density. The rapid results allow users to identify and isolate contaminated areas to control potential spread.

Potential use cases include continuous passive monitoring of an area for the virus, screening prior to entry to ensure that a space is safe or determining whether a space is safe to reenter after a positive COVID-19 case. Consider using the BioFlash Biological Identifier to identify airborne biological threats, including COVID-19, in the following areas:

  1. Intake and other temporary holding areas.
  2. Dormitories.
  3. Cellblocks.
  4. Infirmaries and wards.
  5. Transportation vehicles, including buses and vans.
  6. Day spaces.
  7. Enclosed recreation yards.
  8. Libraries.
  9. Visiting areas.
  10. Kitchens.
  11. Mailrooms.
  12. Warehouses.
  13. Detainee work areas.
  14. Cafeterias and dining areas.
  15. Locker rooms.
  16. Administrative areas.
  17. Meeting and briefing areas.
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The BioFlash Biological Identifier is easily transported wherever it is needed.

Smiths Detection


The primary advantages of using the BioFlash Biological Identifier within a detention center is that it can reduce infection rates, reduce detainee medical costs, reduce staffing shortages due to illness, reduce anxiety about infectious diseases and protect the facility against emerging airborne biological threats.

In addition, the BioFlash Biological Identifier unit can help a facility efficiently manage costs associated with disinfecting an area by identifying areas where the biological threat is airborne rather than assuming that all areas need the deep cleaning that is associated with sterilizing an area.

Finally, the BioFlash Biological Identifier can provide administrators with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have implemented the most up-to-date technologies in the field of biological threat identification and that everyone with a facility is a safe. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Visit Smiths Detection for more information about the BioFlash Biological Identifier and detecting COVID-19 in your facility.

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About the author

Philip J. Swift is currently serving as a city marshal in the DFW area of Texas and has been a law enforcement officer since 1998. He holds a Ph.D. in forensic psychology, and his areas of research include behavioral learning theory, cognitive schemes, group psychology and historical trauma theory. He has several published works and regularly speaks locally and nationally regarding his research and expertise in law enforcement and criminal culture.