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SIGMA Program Completes Testing of Ambulance-Mounted ‘Dirty Bomb’ Detectors

For approximately seven months starting in July 2016, the fleet of D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services ambulances was outfitted with DARPA-developed nuclear and radiological detectors, providing the first city-scale, dynamic, real-time map of background radiation levels throughout the Capital as well as identifying any unusual spikes that could indicate a threat. Courtesy of DARPA.

The largest test deployment of vehicle-mounted radiation detectors was successfully completed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) SIGMA program last month in Washington, D.C.

Beginning in July 2016, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services ambulances were outfitted with DARPA-developed nuclear and radiological detectors, providing the first city-scale, dynamic, real-time map of background radiation levels throughout the Capital as well as identifying any unusual spikes that could indicate a threat.

Emergency vehicles equipped with radiation detectors provide an excellent means of achieving a large-scale scan for radiological risks. In the just-completed test deployment, up to 73 large detectors were installed on emergency vehicles that together logged well over 100,000 hours of detector operation covering more than 150,000 miles, and identified in real-time thousands of radiation sources.

Items as innocuous as natural granite used in construction, as well as lingering radiation after certain medical treatments, can trigger positive responses. SIGMA detectors can readily distinguish between these kinds of benign sources and threatening ones.

In addition, the SIGMA detectors provided detailed background radiation maps of the District against which future sources may be more easily detected.

The deployment also offered an opportunity to test and refine the wireless data fusion aspects of the system, which constantly fed information about vehicle location and radiation readings to a central command post.

“D.C. Fire and EMS was an invaluable partner and testbed for SIGMA’s vehicle-scale detectors,” said Vincent Tang, DARPA program manager. “The data gathered during the D.C. deployment are helping to further fine-tune the SIGMA system for potential deployment in major cities across the country and for emergency use by active-duty military units and National Guard civil support teams.” While ambulances were used in the D.C. test, the program envisions the possibility of using other options for getting distributed coverage in future deployments in other cities.

Read more at DARPA’s website: Radioactive Threat Detection System Completes Emergency Vehicle Test Deployment in Nation’s Capital.

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