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EGLE developing drone system to monitor for radiation

August 26, 2019

Experimental monitoring system on a drone test flight.The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy's (EGLE) Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) Program has been ready to respond to radiological and nuclear emergencies for decades. This summer, like many others dating back to the early 1980s, the REP Program's radiation scientists -- called health physicists -- worked with emergency responders to teach them how to use specialized radiation detection equipment, perform decontamination, and protect themselves from radiation while responding to an emergency. Training and response drills include dozens, sometimes hundreds, of participants, including traditional first responders, scientists, and decisions-makers. This year, a new type of responder emerged.

The REP Program has been experimenting with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) equipped with radiation detectors to fly over locations that are difficult to access or pose certain risks. Early testing has shown that the system, operated by a human pilot, is able to automatically and reliably collect and map data in real time. EGLE's health physicists can review this data and, within minutes, advise decision-makers regarding what actions to take to protect people downwind of the accident. Members of the community can also take important steps to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their pets during these events.

What you can do? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a radiological or nuclear emergency, you should "Get Inside, Stay Inside, and Stay Tuned," awaiting instructions from state and federal officials. Once notified of an emergency, EGLE's health physicists assess the situation using state-of-the art computer modeling and ongoing environmental monitoring to predict impacts to human health and the environment. They share that information with decision-makers and recommend protective actions -- such as evacuation of the public or sheltering-in-place -- to reduce the risk that anyone will experience health effects from exposure to radiation from the accident. EGLE and their federal partners will continue to monitor the situation and update the affected community until there is no further threat of harm to public health.

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