Regional, state law enforcement attend nuclear detection seminar

Tom Wright, an Idaho State Police hazardous materials specialist, uses an Ortec Detective-DX to take readings through the side of a truck during a training exercise Tuesday at Eastern Idaho Technical College. The device is a high-resolution radioactive isotope identification system. Pat Sutphin /

Tom Clawson, left, leads instruction on use of the Flir identiFINDER on Tuesday at Eastern Idaho Technical College. Clawson’s group used the device, a low-resolution radioactive isotope identification system, to identify caesium-137. Pat Sutphin /

Today’s law enforcement officers are trained to respond to a wide variety of situations to ensure they have the tools and skills necessary — even in the most unusual circumstances.

Such training includes the possibility of coming into contact with radioactive or nuclear materials during an investigation or routine search. To better prepare for such a scenario, about 75 regional and state law enforcement officers and emergency responders attended training Tuesday at Eastern Idaho Technical College.

The Radiological Nuclear Detection Seminar was hosted by the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.

“This gives officers and other first responders the ability to check for radiation in terrorist type events and/or daily operations, where people are working with industrial uses for radiation,” Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Casper said. “This gives us the ability to detect radiation and understand its workings to determine when we are in unsafe conditions.”

During the two-day seminar, officers attended classes led by private-security contractors and representatives with Homeland Security’s Mobile Detection Deployment Units. These units showcase advanced radiation detection technology to local law enforcement agencies to better inform them of the tools available.

Officers learned to identify hazardous substances and received hands-on training with advanced radiation detection technology used by the deployment units.

“Some radiation is used commonly in everyday medical or industrial instruments, so it’s important to be able to tell the difference between what’s a safe radiation dose and when you’re dealing with an unsafe substance,” Casper said.

Idaho State Police Hazardous Materials Specialist Thomas Wright also found the training helpful.

State troopers encounter situations involving radioactive materials with more frequency than local police. That’s because they monitor and inspect shipments of hazardous material entering the state.

“If there is a transportation incident or a worst-case scenario such as a terrorist event, we’d have to deal with the situation and know what resources to call upon to get some help,” Wright said. “This gives us some idea of what other agencies are bringing to the table (in these situations) and gets us familiar with the names and faces of people we’d need to contact.”

Local and state law enforcement agencies already have basic equipment to detect radioactivity. The advanced equipment tested Tuesday is not typically used in responding to emergencies, officials said.

Local law enforcement can obtain the equipment through interagency sharing agreements, but it is typically only needed during investigations requiring more specialized methods of detection.

The Department of Homeland Security offers similar seminars nationwide as part of a broader effort to help local law officers prepare for radiological events and keep abreast of new technology.

“The Department of Homeland Security works closely with state and local law enforcement officials and public safety officials, who are on the frontline of detection and prevention efforts, to ensure that they have the necessary capabilities and are well trained to respond if an incident occurs,” spokesman S.Y. Lee said in an emailed statement.

Local law officers said there isn’t a major concern about such events occurring in eastern Idaho, even with the presence of the Idaho National Laboratory. But they want to be ahead of the curve, just in case.

“This is tremendously useful because times are changing, and if we don’t know or aren’t up-to-date with what is going on, we’ll fall behind,” Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Smith said. “This particular stuff brings a whole new realm of training … that we need to understand to protect citizens around here.”

Reporter Nate Sunderland can be reached at 542-6763.