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Department of Energy shares nuclear expertise

(from left) Master Sgt. Phillip Hartzell, Nancy Driscoll, Edward Crisostomo and Joel Swanson discuss a radiological detection device during a break in the presentation Swanson recently was giving on base. Swanson is a contractor response coordinator for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Region 7, which includes all of California. March ARB first and emergency responders attended the session, which promoted interagency cooperation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Megan Just)

(from left) Master Sgt. Phillip Hartzell, Nancy Driscoll, Edward Crisostomo and Joel Swanson discuss a radiological detection device during a break in the presentation Swanson recently was giving on base. Swanson is a contractor response coordinator for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Region 7, which includes all of California. March ARB first and emergency responders attended the session, which promoted interagency cooperation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Megan Just)

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. -- The flash from an initial nuclear weapon explosion is so bright that people looking at it within a 5-mile radius could go permanently blind if their blinking reflex took longer than a quarter of a second.

This scenario and others were topics of discussion here Jan. 28 during a U.S. Department of Energy outreach session.

A team from the department was in the area to train with the Riverside County Fire Department and Sheriff's Department. The training at March was an opportunity to ensure all emergency response teams at the base have the same information and the ability to work together immediately.

"The training will help all of our base's first and emergency responders to be on the same page," said Tech. Sgt. Roger Pascual, an emergency management technician, who helped coordinate the event on base.

Sergeant Pascual said the information exchange session was the first of its kind with the Department of Energy at the base. He said the benefits of the collaboration will reach beyond the teams at March, since the first responders in Riverside County will also have the same information.

Ten people from the base attended the session, representing the fire department, security forces, emergency management, bioenvironmental and explosive ordnance disposal.

Joel Swanson, a contractor response coordinator with the Department of Energy, began the session with a presentation that covered topics such as types of nuclear and radiological threat devices and containment practices.

Mr. Swanson said the session at March is meant to be a forum for comparing nuclear and radiological emergency capabilities.

"We're sharing our knowledge and experience with each other," he said. "The goal is to be comfortable working together."

Mr. Swanson belongs to the Department of Energy's Region 7 Radiological Assistance Program, which consists of Hawaii, Nevada and California. He works with both governmental and private agencies in radiological and nuclear outreach sessions.

In an actual emergency, Mr. Swanson and his team can reach any location in their region within six hours.

In his presentation at March, he discussed the best locations to seek shelter in the case of a nuclear detonation. The two most ideal locations would be deep inside a large building on an upper floor, or, several stories below ground in a basement. In the case neither was available, he said even a car or a small house would offer more protection from the radiation than remaining outside.

Mr. Swanson emphasized that radiation does not necessarily come from malicious sources. In the past, radioactive materials have been used for a variety of industrial purposes. In one case, a curious Boy Scout in Michigan was able to create a nuclear breeder reactor and unwittingly radiated his neighborhood.

Mr. Swanson said exposure to radiation can be difficult to diagnose because many of the symptoms are the same as the flu.

He shared simulation scenarios that mimicked weather, damage zones and expected fallout paths if there were a nuclear attack in New York City or Washington, D.C. Glass blown from buildings is one of the major considerations for emergency response teams. Some simulations estimate there could be up to 70 feet of glass covering the roads near skyscrapers in New York.

After Mr. Swanson's presentation, the Department of Energy staff gave the March personnel hands-on training with their radiological detection equipment. (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)