EGLE looking to use drones for emergency management response

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The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) is working to incorporate a different type of responder into the state’s emergency preparedness plans: a radiation-detecting drone system.

With three nuclear fission power plants, officials at EGLE are concerned about potential accidents. They believe a drone system could come in handy.

Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station, Frenchtown Township | Wikimedia Commons

Health physicists from EGLE’s Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) Program have been experimenting with UAVs — uncrewed aerial vehicles more commonly known as drones. Drones fitted with radiation-sensing equipment could be deployed by FAA-certified responders in the event of a radiological accident. 

The REP Program — which manages Michigan’s radiological responsibilities and responds to accidents or emergencies at the state’s three commercial nuclear power plants — says a drone could scan the area of the accident for radiation, retrieve data and send it back to responders in minutes. 

If an area did contain toxic levels of radiation, responders would know to avoid the area unless properly equipped. Shelter in place or evacuation notices could also be relayed to the public if deemed necessary. 

The concept has roots in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program intended to ensure that state and local governments can provide adequate emergency responses during radiological emergencies, said David Asselin, a supervisor for EGLE’s REP Unit. 

Such an emergency might not occur in Michigan, but there still “needs to be a program in place to handle one,” Asselin said. 

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The drone system could be used for non-emergencies, as well. While it was primarily developed for the REP Program, it could be used “in any situation where there was reason to do radiological monitoring,” Asselin said. 

Michigan’s State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) — a division that oversees and coordinates responses to disasters, emergencies and terrorist events — could also benefit from this technology.

If the drones are developed and deployed, the SEOC could “also utilize that for a disaster that was occurring,” said Dale George, a SEOC and Michigan State Police (MSP) spokesman.

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