Radiation detectionIllinois first responder receive wearable radiation detectors

Published 27 January 2012

First responder across Illinois will soon be outfitted with portable personal radiation detectors to detect dirty bombs and increase safety

First responder across Illinois will soon be outfitted with portable personal radiation detectors.

Working in conjunction with Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS), the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Nuclear Safety Division, and Argonne National Laboratory, the Illinois Terrorism Task Forced (ITTF) has developedradiation detectors that are about the size of a cell phone.

So far 6,200 of the detectors have been purchased for police and fire departments across the state, but following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, 2,000 portable detectors were sent to assist first responders there.

One of the primary goals of the program is to assist officers in preventing terrorists or malicious actors from stealing radioactive materials or deploying a dirty bomb. By carrying the devices at all times, law enforcement officials are now able to more easily discover dangerous fissile materials as the detectors can not only detect radiation but pinpoint its source.

Chief Deputy Mike Walker of the DeWitt County Sheriff’s Department said the devices could prove quite useful.

“There could be a semi truck with radioactive material on the road, or other situations where it wouldn’t hurt to check things out,” Walker said.

Mike Reidy, the police chief in nearby Clinton, agreed with Walker by adding, “It’s good to know what’s out there so we might know sooner rather than later if we’re talking about a radioactive event.”

With a single-unit nuclear reactor located six miles east of Clinton, Reidy said the radiation monitors could also help improve the safety of law enforcement officials if an accident at the power plant occurred.

“If officers are monitoring traffic control, this would enhance their ability to know if they are in a safe zone,” Reidy said.

According to Jim Page, ILEAS’ executive director, law enforcement agencies located near nuclear facilities and major interstates were given priority in the program.

To help minimize the chance of false positives, first responders have been instructed to fasten the device on their belt or in a pocket at least six inches away from radio-emitting sources like cell phones and radios.

In addition, the radiation detectors could pick up readings from non-threatening sources of radiation like cancer patients who have recently undergone treatment. To avoid an embarrassing situation or violating civil rights, officers in the Chicago Police Department, which have been equipped with the devices, have been instructed to identify a legitimate source for any alarm before beginning a criminal investigation. Furthermore any seizures or detentions must be backed up with facts, circumstances, and conclusions.