Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 27, 2005

Colorado Springs develops radiological sensor network

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats,State and Local HLS — by Christian Beckner on December 27, 2005

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting story about Colorado Springs’ plans to develop the first city-wide sensor network in the U.S. to detect radiological and nuclear threats:

In this quiet bedroom community surrounded by five military bases, including NORAD, which monitors North American airspace, city officials believe that they have to worry about terrorism as much as some of the nation’s biggest cities. That’s why Merritt, the city’s senior traffic engineer, has become the point person in an effort to install a monitoring system that could detect a “dirty bomb” or another similar radiological terrorist attack….

But Colorado Springs appears to be the first city in the nation to prepare a citywide system. Ottawa, Canada, is the only other North American city that has a similar setup, according to the company that makes the products Colorado Springs is using.

The article notes that the cost of this is likely to be in the $1m-$2m range for the city. Given the fact that NORAD and Northcom are in Colorado Springs, this seems like a relatively prudent investment from a risk standpoint.

Hopefully this will motivate efforts at the federal level to develop and implement a national strategy for nuclear and radiological detection. There have been some solid progress in R&D for rad/nuc sensors and the development of standards in the last four years. And a new office was created in 2005 – the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) – to drive this effort. But it’s not yet clear to me that there is a clear strategy in the federal government about how to implement sensors in a way that creates a “national detection architecture.”

One key element of this will be finding the right balance between federal, state and local funding. DHS has a role in funding detection capabilities in cities, but should only do so if states and cities are willing to spend some of their own money (at least 30%) in support of this mission.

For more information, see this related article in the Colorado Springs Gazette from early November and this whitepaper from the company that is implementing the system for Colorado Springs.

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