The Quad-Copter Drone Radiation Threat to Critical Infrastructure
Editor’s Note: This paper by Phil Smith of Kno-Rad, Inc. Phil has more than 16 years of radiation experience.
The recent emergence of very capable, widely available Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs) requires a close look at their nefarious possibilities and potential countermeasures. Presently the limited payload of these drones precludes Nuclear weapon delivery and insures that any High Explosive attack will be relatively small. Drone Radiation Threat. Chemical or Biological weapon delivery by drones could be devastating to people in a building or confined space, but their effect on critical infrastructure would be transient. On the other hand, a Radiological drone attack has the potential to deliver a crippling long term blow to critical national infrastructure. This paper will focus on the RPV Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) threat.
An RDD needn’t be large or heavy to render a major high rise building permanently uninhabitable. A device the size of a small pill bottle weighing about one ounce is capable of denying access to a facility as important as a major bank, data center, hospital, government or military facility, embassy, etc.. Once contaminated, remediation is likely to be physically, financially, and psychologically impossible. The device could be as simple as a blasting cap surrounded by a 1″ piece of detonating cord and as little as 1 gram of Cs137, which is quite accessible to a terrorist organization (5 grams of Cs137 produces a radiation field of 140R/hr at 1 meter). Such a device can easily be carried by a wide variety of drones currently on the hobbyist and commercial markets.
A quad-copter RDD attack is not necessarily a suicide mission. The craft could be concealed in the trunk of a car with the RDD device tethered below it and shielded in a small lead pipe (or pig). Shielded in such a manner, detection could be easily avoided. When the launch point is reached, the pig is remotely pulled open and the drone simply lifts the device out of the shielding as it ascends from the open trunk. The pilot could be in an entirely separate location. The offending RPV could be flown high above the target and placed in a quiet glide mode to the building HVAC air intake where the device is then detonated. The bulk of the aerosolized isotope is consequently sucked into the building and rapidly distributed throughout the HVAC duct-work. Because the detonation may sound like a distant gunshot to building occupants, it could be some time before there was awareness that an attack had occurred. This could insure thorough contamination of the building.
Because a single abandoned radiotherapy machine can contain enough Cs137 for a dozen such attacks, multiple simultaneous attacks should be considered possible. So far, agency discussion of the RDD threat has centered on the so called “Dirty Bomb”, which assumes a substantial quantity of explosives and radioactive material that is necessarily more difficult to shield and transport without detection. The RPV to HVAC air intake attack path, using much smaller quantities of unshielded radioactive material to contaminate indoor spaces, must be considered.
There are significant problems with most of the existing interdiction methods. Detection of the approaching radioactive source coupled with shutdown of HVAC air intakes offers the simplest and most reliable defense. It is much easier to deal with contamination on the outside of a building than if it is spread throughout the building duct-work.
The NukAlert Automated Radiation Measurement Station-2 (ARMS-2) is an inexpensive, ready to deploy solution to the vulnerability. The system can detect a drone carrying a gram of unshielded Cs137 at a distance of over 175 ft and issue a shutdown command to the HVAC through the BACnet system within 2 seconds. Even if the HVAC air intake closure requires several seconds, the contamination could be mainly confined to the intake duct-work and not spread throughout the building. ARMS-2 measures both “Cloud Shine” and “Ground Shine” gamma radiation providing real-time measurement of radiation passing above a building and radiation falling to the ground. The system can immediately send text and email notifications to multiple building personnel. These ARMS systems can feed live radiation data from multiple locations to FEMA’s RadResponder Network and WebEOC. The EOC and responsible agencies can have immediate notification of a radiological release.
A key benefit to deployment of the ARMS-2 is improved readiness for other radiological emergencies such as an Improvised Nuclear Device (IND) or nuclear power plant accident. In the event of a release of radiation from any source, it is quite likely that the person tasked with closing a building’s air intake will be away or distracted. It is clearly sensible to automate the process. There is almost no risk associated with such automation. In most buildings, shutdown of outside air has no immediately discernible effect. Should there be a false alarm, only the maintenance personnel need know about it. Most buildings can support the occupants’ respiration for days without adding outside air to the system. It is likely that many managers of buildings critical to national commerce or governance have not even contemplated an orderly shutdown procedure for HVAC air intakes.
Fourteen years ago NIOSH identified the front line of building CBRN defense:
PREVENT ACCESS TO OUTDOOR AIR INTAKES
“One of the most important steps in protecting a building’s indoor environment is the security of the outdoor air intakes. Outdoor air enters the building through these intakes and is distributed throughout the building by the HVAC system. Introducing CBR agents into the outdoor air intakes allows a terrorist to use the HVAC system as a means of dispersing the agent throughout a building.”
Japan Radiation Incidents Links 2015:
We now have an effective tool to begin responding to the threat. It’s time to deploy it. For more information contact:
Apogee Communications Group
159 Alpine Way
Boulder, CO 80304