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Staff Accomplishments

Making the grade: PNNL testing radiation detectors for DHS

June 2004
A marathon of testing has begun at PNNL to ensure that personal radiation equipment purchased with Department of Homeland Security funds meets new operational standards. "These pocket-sized personal radiation detectors and hand-held radiation survey meters play a critical role in effective threat detection for law enforcement, fire patrols, hazardous material experts and other emergency first-responders," said PNNL physicist Joe McDonald. He chaired a 17-member committee tasked with developing the standards for personal radiation detection. "The committee was challenged to develop the standards in record time - 6 months - and the pace remains brisk during the testing phase," said Joe. Under normal conditions it wouldn't be unusual to run this type of testing over a period of two years. More than 100 instruments, representing approximately 30 different equipment models are in the running to evaluate their capabilities and performance relating to electrical systems performance, mechanical operations, environmental susceptibilities and radiological sensitivities. Upon completion, a consumer report-style publication will be developed for DHS, enabling first responder personnel to be matched with equipment on a case-by-case basis. First responders will be able to select equipment based on actual instrument performances, rather than on manufacturer's claims. Team leader Phil Smith explained that the one size fits all approach doesn't work for first responders. "The Coast Guard has a keen interest in how equipment holds up to water and humidity; urban-area security personnel look closely at features such as size, portability and detector reaction time," said Phil. Realistic conditions are simulated in the testing process. Temperatures will include highs, lows and rapid changes. Detection equipment will be exposed to vibrations, humidity and electromagnetic fields. And, while durability tests may not be as extreme as a gorilla tossing luggage, they will evaluate the equipments ability to withstand anticipated wear and tear. Calibration team members believe that the ANSI criteria for performance will ultimately raise the quality of detection devices available. Since manufacturers want their equipment to score well and gain acceptance from government buyers, they have been very interested in working to produce the best possible product. "A win for us is not just completing the testing on schedule, but providing information that makes it possible to get reliable equipment in the field as quickly as possible. On-time completion will enable DHS to allocate immediate funding for agencies that have urgent business in the line of first response," said Joe. The team anticipates a second round of testing for those products that didn't make the deadline for the initial testing phase. Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories are conducting similar testing for other models of radiation-detection equipment. Contact: Kelvin Soldat

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