Sunday, February 22, 2004

City taps in to plume data

Atmospheric advisory unit now aids homeland security

By Matt Leingang
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A "dirty bomb" goes off in Cincinnati, releasing radiological material into the atmosphere. Where is the plume heading? What neighborhoods lie in its path?

Cincinnati should be able to answer those questions within minutes of a terrorist attack using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, thanks to a new homeland security project, local emergency planners say.

The city is one of only five in the country to have direct computer access to the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center in California.

Cincinnati is part of a pilot project to extend NARAC's membership to U.S. cities, giving them the ability to have - within five to 10 minutes - a projected street-level map of any hazardous plume.

The other cities included in this $1 million-a-year project, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, are Seattle, New York City, Fort Worth, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

That puts Ohio far ahead of other states in getting coverage for its densely populated urban areas, said Ronald Baskett, director of operations for NARAC, which is headquartered outside San Francisco.

Each of these Ohio cities must designate someone -- a public health, fire or environmental expert - to receive a password to NARAC's secure Web site.

Those in Cincinnati who have been practicing with the technology for the past year say it will allow them to save lives by knowing where hazardous air plumes are headed - evacuating neighborhoods if necessary or ordering people to remain indoors.

"It's always been frustrating when dealing with the threat of chemical or biological warfare not to have scientific information about where the path of a plume could make its way through the community," said Ed Dadosky, the district fire chief in Cincinnati who heads the department's weapons-of-mass destruction response planning unit.

Dadosky is one of about 10 people in Greater Cincinnati who is authorized to use NARAC. Also with access: designated officials in eight surrounding counties in Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Indiana.

Dadosky said the system can be used when responding to accidental spills at local chemical plants or hazardous material spills on the highways.

New York City used NARAC last February to plot the projected path of a giant, black plume of smoke from a major fuel spill and fire on Staten Island.


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