Roane County Gets Powerful Radiological Scanners

By: Kim Bedford
By: Kim Bedford

Roane County (WVLT) -- Dirty bombs and radiological devices may all be threats to you right here in East Tennessee.

Unfortunately, they may also be tough to spot on the roadways.

That was until now.

Thanks to two local agencies that may be the last defense against those threats, we now have a way to find them, even if we can't see them.

On Thursday, Roane County's Hazmat technicians underwent some extensive training which taught them all about a new high-tech personal radiological detector.

The device will be the first of its kind used in the state to detect radiological materials from an officer's belt loop.

“The thing with radiation is you can't smell it, taste it or see it, and a lot of times you're being exposed and you don't know it," said Howie Rose, Roane County EMA director.

That's exactly why the Roane County Hazmat Team had to learn more about radioactive materials and the equipment it takes to best protect the region.

"There's a relatively new piece of technology that has really come into the forefront after 9/11," he said.

Since the attack’s, nearly every officer in New York City carries a personal radiological detector, and soon every deputy in Roane County will carry them.

"We'll be able to survey hundreds of people in a short amount of time," Rose said.

The pager-like detectors sit on a deputy's belt loop and go off any time they're near radiological materials

"If someone is trying to smuggle stolen or otherwise illegally obtained material around, these officers are on patrol and anytime they come in contact with this, those pagers are going to let them know that," he said.

"We try to think of the worst-case scenario and that's what we train for," said Capt. Dan King of the Harriman City Fire Department.

One of those scenario’s deals with a chemical attack.

During the emergency simulation, Hazmat technicians have to rely on a lot of team work to get a mass decontamination tent together.

Rockwood Fire Chief Mike Wertz says you can never be too safe.

"We just don't know with the way the world is now, what can happen or when it will happen,” said Chief Wertz. “You hope it never does, but we have to be prepared."

Especially around Roane County.

"This area is what I consider kind of a high risk, as much traffic as we have through our county and our whole region,” Capt. King said.

"Here recently, there's been a lot of hype about radiological terrorism and we want to make sure that if that unthinkable event ever took place, we'd be able to handle it," Rose said.

The personal radiological detectors cost $1,200 a piece and the Roane County EMA has purchased 55 of them, all paid for with Homeland Security grants.

Eventually, they hope to have the detectors for the Kingston, Harriman and Rockwood police departments.


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