(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Cody Rowe)

Ogden City Police Department Starts Low-Cost, High-Impact Radiological Safety Program

I remember hearing that a Troxler soil density gauge was missing. A police report from a neighboring city suggested that someone broke into the construction vehicle the gauge was secured in overnight and stole it. When I saw the details, however, it didn’t make sense. The locks were just lying on the ground, untampered with and uncut. The gauge, which includes a radiation source, was gone. I suspected the gauge was left unsecured and that’s why it was stolen, or it just fell off the back of the truck because it wasn’t secured.

Master Officer Glen Buss is with the Ogden City Police Department, located just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He recalls this event, and others. “I remember stopping a vehicle for a traffic violation. As I approached it, my Personal Radiation Detector (PRD) went off. I saw a soil density gauge in the back and checked it out. Fortunately, everything was secure so there was no problem. Another time, we were working a special event – the taping of a big television show that came to town – more than a thousand people came out. I recognized a vehicle from a construction company. I walked toward it and, again, my PRD went off. This time, a soil density gauge was sitting in the back seat totally unsecured. I thought to myself that we really need to do something to ensure these sources are secured, before they fall into the wrong hands.”

IAEA’s Incident and Trafficking Database

The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) maintains the Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB). It was established in 1995 to help IAEA member states and international organizations combat illicit nuclear trafficking and increase nuclear security. It stores voluntarily reported data on unauthorized activities and events involving nuclear and radiological sources outside of regulatory control. In 2019 alone, 36 countries reported 189 incidents. The incidents fall into the following categories:

Group I ·     Incidents for which there is sufficient information to determine a connection exists with trafficking or malicious use

·     In the period between 1993 and 2019, confirmed incidents in this group included highly enriched uranium, plutonium, and plutonium beryllium neutron sources. A small number of these incidents involved seizures of kilogram quantities of potentially weapons-usable nuclear material, but the majority involved gram quantities

Group II ·     Incidents for which there is insufficient information to determine that a connection exists with trafficking or malicious use

·     The majority of incidents in this group involve stolen or missing material

Group III ·     Incidents that are not, or are unlikely to be, connected to trafficking or malicious use

·     Incidents typically include: i. unauthorized disposal (e.g. radioactive sources entering the scrap metal industry); ii. unauthorized shipment (e.g. scrap metals contaminated with radioactive material being shipped across international borders); and iii. discovery of radioactive material (e.g. uncontrolled radioactive sources

Even with no connection to malicious use, missing or stolen radiation sources may still pose a threat, even if just through accidental exposure. See IAEA for more information: iaea.org/resources/databases/itdb.

Ogden City Police Department Initiates a Radiological Safety Program

The Ogden City Police Department encourages its officers to identify community policing projects specific to their areas of expertise and assignments. These projects often involve officers and community partners working together to eliminate a problem or to prevent a criminal event from occurring. As the department’s hazmat expert and liaison to the fire department’s hazmat team, Master Officer Buss decided to create a Radiological Safety Program.

First, Buss secured a list of licensed radiological sources throughout the city, through his pre-existing relationship with State Radiation Control. He planned to visit these sites to review their security, but he needed an efficient way to do so. He implemented a prioritization structure based primarily on the likelihood of the source falling outside of regulatory control. Sources often found in hospitals such as blood irradiators and gamma knives are already under so much security that they did not appear to be the most effective use of time. Construction sources, however, such as radiography cameras or soil density gauges could be much easier to lose or steal if they are not secured correctly. While the potential consequences of accidental misuse or even skilled weaponization would likely fall on a relatively small scale, it could still have significant impact to a local community. Buss decided their security is well worth the effort and started working his way down the list.

Implementing the Program

Typically, Buss starts by contacting the radiation source’s owner, explains that he has no regulatory authority over licenses, and is just there to help with safety. “I have never had a bad experience,” says Buss. “The businesses all explain their policies and procedures to me. Some even ask me to give their staff training. They truly appreciate the assistance I am providing.”

Buss remembers a trip to a business with radiography cameras. “I barely got out of my car and my PRD was already going off,” but no one was around. He called the owner and learned the staff usually works at night. The owner explained that he had trouble securing all the approvals he needed for the radiography camera; he felt the process could have been clearer. When Ogden City PD called to check in and offer assistance, the owner was so happy to engage with an interested and informed party he had his entire staff report to work the very next day to meet with Buss. The staff walked Buss through their safety and security procedures and asked what recommendations he had for enhancement. “I remember that from the front door, you could see their Ludlum and radiation transportation stickers. I explained that if someone were out looking for a radiography camera, this would be a dead giveaway. And regardless, this isn’t something to advertise.” So we moved those out of sight right away. Then each employee talked through his or her procedures, in this case, regarding a 90 curie iridium 192-source. “They all knew what the regulations were and how to address them, but they didn’t know why. I kept explaining the potential dangerous situation posed by the camera falling into the wrong hands. The staff was very interested and seemed to take on an entirely new understanding of why they were conducting their safety procedures.”

Getting Started

It is not necessary to be a scientist or even have an extensive CBRN background to get a local radiological safety program started. Buss was a hazmat commercial vehicle inspector. Then he took a class at CTOS, the Counterterrorism Operations Support Center for Radiological Nuclear Training. He realized that preventive radiological and nuclear detection (PRND) is an area of law enforcement that is often overlooked and needed more attention.

Next, he contacted Art Deyo with the Utah State Fire Marshal’s Office, who runs a successful state-level PRND program. Deputy State Fire Marshal Deyo helped Ogden City PD secure equipment and other expertise to get its program started. Then Buss put his plan into place and got to work.

How to Set Up a Successful Local Radiological Safety Program:

  1. Get trained: Check out CTOS at ctosnnsa.org
  2. Get the list of radiation sources in your jurisdiction: Try Radiation Control
  3. Always announce yourself as being non-regulatory
  4. Clearly communicate that the purpose of your visit is prevention, or PRND
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Erin Mohres is a Director of Safety and Security at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization located in the greater Washington, DC area. She has been working for or supporting state and local emergency management and homeland security programs since 2004. She started with Miami-Dade County as Logistics Chief and Community Preparedness Manager. She then served as Director of the City of Fort Lauderdale Emergency Management program. Since then, she has supported at least 50 state and local jurisdictions across the United States. Her focus areas include critical infrastructure and risk analysis, logistics, strategic and operational planning, training and outreach, and grants management. She has an M.A from the University of Miami and a B.A from the University of Illinois.

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