Low-altitude radiation survey flights over downtown Boston and the Boston Marathon race route will take place from Friday, October 8, through Monday, October 11, by a team from the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The surveys to be done using the NNSA’s Aerial Measuring System (AMS) are what the agency calls “a normal part of security and emergency preparedness activities.”
More information and video footage of the NNSA’s aerial assessments are available online.
The AMS: An NNSA team will use a helicopter equipped with the AMS to measure naturally occurring background radiation as part of standard preparations.
In the event of the release of radioactive material in relation to the marathon, the AMS will be able to provide a picture of radiological conditions. The data provided is often the first scientifically defensible and actionable product that federal, state, and local officials can use to make decisions such as evacuation and shelter-in-place guidance, according to the NNSA.
Some history: The AMS’s heritage dates back to 1958, when the Aerial Radiological Measuring System (ARMS) was established to support the U.S. Geological Survey. The first operational use of the ARMS occurred in support of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site, when aircraft equipped with the system mapped the distribution of radioactive material. After U.S. nuclear testing moved underground, the ARMS was used to confirm that radioactive materials were not released into the atmosphere.
Later, the ARMS transitioned to a rapid response capability to provide time-critical data to decision makers during a radiological emergency and became known as the AMS. One such deployment involved the use of AMS helicopters during the response to the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.
The helicopter: The helicopter to be used for the Boston surveys is a twin-engine Bell 412 model that is equipped with the AMS. It will fly in a grid pattern over the areas at 150 feet (or higher) above the ground at a speed of about 80 mph. Flyovers will occur only during daylight hours and are estimated to take about two hours to complete per area.