Published February 28, 2013
The last remaining Manhattan Project facility still located in Manhattan was officially transformed into a modern new laboratory Wednesday -- part of an ongoing commitment to keep Americans safe from radiological threats.
The lab, which quietly goes about its business in a trendy, downtown section of the city, was part of the Medical Division of the Atomic Energy Commission, founded in 1947. That group was one part of the massive research and development effort that led to the development of the atomic bomb.
With fallout from nuclear tests a national concern, the Medical Division assessed radiation levels using a network of monitoring stations and taking measurements in food products. During the Cold War, this network expanded worldwide and included samples from soil, water and air filters on the ground and in the stratosphere.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the lab was transferred from the Energy Department to the Department of Homeland Security and its name changed to the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL).
At this point, its mission changed as well, to preventing terrorist attacks and other hazards in American cities. Yet it continues to leverage its nuclear roots.
On Wednesday, NUSTL exclusively revealed to FoxNews.com its new state-of-the-art laboratory.
Chief Edward Kilduff, the city’s highest ranking uniformed firefighter, and Richard Daddario, the deputy commissioner for counterterrorism at the New York Police Department, represented the FDNY and NYPD at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Also in attendance were Acting Director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office Huban Gwodia, S&T’s Director of the Office of National Labs Jamie Johnson and Director of S&T’s First Responder Group Bob Griffin, who joined NUSTL Director Adam Hutter and DHS S&T Under Secretary Dr. Daniel Gerstein.
Reading the City’s Radiation
Opening day at the revamped center revealed a piece of recovered World Trade Center steel on display in the reception area. “It’s a sobering reminder of the lives lost, and a motivation for why we come to work every day,” Hutter told FoxNews.com.
In a massive departure from the lab of the past half a century, the modern lab was designed with collaboration in mind to bring together sponsors, developers and first responders who will use the technology.
The Gamma Room, Neutron Room, Health and Physics Room were just a few of the technical work areas and modern labs.
While scientists in the Gamma Room may not yet have produced an Incredible Hulk or Fantastic Four just yet, they have pioneered gamma detection, leading to the deployment of approximately 25 threat detection devices throughout the city.
In a new Training and Assessments Center, first-responder focus groups can evaluate technologies and report on the results. In a Health and Physics room, NUSTL studies natural radiological sources, which can be found in surprising places.
“Kitty litter,” they explained, accounts for about 30 percent of radiological hits.
"We can better protect people by partnering with Feds and others … NUSTL is critical," Kilduff told FoxNews.com.
Mission: Securing Against Nuclear Threats
Since 2009, NUSTL’s team has tested thousands of radiation detection systems to ensure they are functioning effectively. Every single piece of such equipment used by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut authorities is tested here prior to distribution to the law enforcement community.
“With even relatively low-technology consumer products, not everything works right out of the box,” Hutter said. “The situation is more severe with highly complex technologies.”
Developed, tested and transitioned by NUSTL, the Radiological Emergency Management System is a gamma radiation detection network that monitors radiation levels throughout the city.
Already fully deployed, it provides a single picture of the radiological threat for emergency managers within moments of an incident.
Immediate knowledge of radiation levels is important because emergency management officials can then deploy resources effectively.
This sort of information is essential to provide correct advice on whether the public should shelter in place or evacuate. When used with meteorological data and plume modeling, REMS can predict the path of radioactive plumes and provide early warnings to areas that will become affected.
Tech Testing and Technical Advice
NUSTL ensures that first responders who must regularly face danger are covered by technology that is not only cutting-edge, but reliable.
The lab performs rigorous performance testing to make sure that the tools and technologies that are purchased actually work as designed. It also ensures that technologies will translate into operational capabilities.
"There is great need to apply tech tools in the field," the NYPD's Richard Daddario told FoxNews.com. "NUSTL provides an opportunity to bring us together on important tech issues."
Utilizing licensed radioactive sources, NUSTL supported training courses and exercises for more than 350 state and local first responders.
Its strategic location in New York City means the lab can support first responders in the area as well as the national homeland-security community.
New York City is an urban test bed, in other words, for the diverse technologies and systems being developed to prepare and protect the nation.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.