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Preventive detection of radiological or nuclear materials means using the right detector systems and processes to prevent someone from using radioactive material as a weapon to hurt people or damage property. Sandia National Laboratories’ Radiological Assistance Program (RAP) is the US first-response resource in assessing an emergency situation and advising decision-makers on further steps to take to evaluate and minimize the hazards of a radiological incident. Sandia’s team is one of several Department of Energy (DOE)/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) teams in the US.

Sandia’s RAP team and partner teams provide radiological detection support for large public events in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. They also help with major public events around the U.S., such as this year’s Republican and Democratic national conventions, Super Bowls or visits from the pope.

Providing the technical expertise to respond to radiological or nuclear threats at large public events, RAP team members can scan the crowd incognito with hand-held radiation detectors or by circling the surrounding area with super-sensitive vehicle-mounted radiation detectors. Or they might use traditional radiation detectors and openly advertise their presence, depending on the threat level and desires of the event organizers.

RAP team’s capabilities and resources include portable field radiation monitoring instrumentation for alpha, beta, gamma, and neutron detection, in addition to generators, mobile laboratories, air samplers, decontamination equipment, communications, and personnel protective equipment to support the response.

A senior sceintist on the RAP team, Richard Stump says “the last thing you want to have happen is somebody getting close enough to a stadium and manage to contaminate a lot of people. People exposed to even the smallest amount of radioactive material would be panic-stricken, even if they aren’t hurt by the initial incident.”

“Being able to provide that layer of security for these events, and provide a level of expertise in interpreting what’s going on, is something that I have pride in. Anybody can get a radiation detector and take a measurement, but we can interpret what it means and advise on a response,” said Hans Oldewage, who recently took over for Stump as regional contractor response coordinator.

According to Sandia’s website, team members are also on call as first responders assisting federal, state, tribal and local governments for incidents involving radiological materials. They respond to incidents such as when an object with radioactive markings found; or an accident involving a vehicle transporting containers of radioactive material, etc.

Sandia’s training courses include hands-on instruction on new equipment and small-scale drills, and an intense one-and-a-half day exercise in which participants respond to complex scenarios throughout Albuquerque using non-hazardous materials.

A spin-off is the international RAPTER class, in which Sandia helps to train more than 1,000 first responders worldwide from China, South Africa, the African nation of Djibouti and more than 50 other countries. The training can be specialized for port and customs officials or for major public events, such as the Olympics or the World Cup.