EPA AeroCommander Supports Anti-Terrorism Effort

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When the Environmental Protection Agency began work on a project to develop an airborne chemical detector system, it was for the purpose of monitoring industrial accidents. But in the last few years, the EPA's Aero Commander 680 has been pressed into duty for national security, to detect chemical hazards. The Commander carries high-tech sensors known as ASPECT, for Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology. "By providing a capability to accurately measure and locate hazardous and toxic chemical plumes, emergency responders near disaster plumes will be able to make better decisions regarding civilian evacuations, resource deployments and ensuring the safety of response crews," said Robert Kroutil, of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. ASPECT uses two sensors. An infrared spectrometer detects and locates chemical vapors. It can peer through smoke and dust to locate the vapor plume and record its density. A high-resolution infrared scanner records an image of the ground and the plume. Information from both instruments is combined with high-resolution digital imagery and GPS data to create a detailed map of the land surface and the location of the chemical vapors. ASPECT can show the main plume as well as places where gas has collected and settled, such as in low-lying areas or places where there is little or no air movement. It takes only minutes to produce an image. The hazard map then can be transmitted to emergency response commanders on the ground by fax or computer. ASPECT can also drop a computer via parachute to emergency responders if necessary. The ASPECT Commander has been deployed to monitor events such as the 2002 Olympic Games, the crash of the space shuttle Columbia (with its release of toxic fuel), last year's political conventions, and this year's presidential inauguration.