pilot inside helicopter over looking Indianapolis 500 track

Aerial radiation measurements keep the Indianapolis 500 safe

pilot inside helicopter over looking Indianapolis 500 track
The Remote Sensing Laboratory Aerial Measuring System team surveys the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Nevada National Security Site’s Remote Sensing Laboratory provides first-time support for annual racing event

Before the racecar drivers took to the track and Indycar fans filled the stands, the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) played a vital role in keeping the athletes and attendees at the Indianapolis 500 safe.

It was the first time that the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) helicopter supported the Indy 500 with flyover radiation monitoring in the days leading up to the event on May 29. Much of NEST – including the helicopter – is operated by NNSS’s Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL).

With locations at Joint Base Andrews and Nellis Air Force Base, NEST teams can quickly deploy in the event of a radiological emergency anywhere in the nation. Aerial radiation monitoring is a normal part of security and emergency preparedness activities for major public events such as the Indianapolis 500.

NNSA’s Bell 412 helicopter flies a low-altitude grid pattern over the event venue and is equipped with radiation-sensing technology that captures baseline measurements of radiation levels. NEST shared the information with Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

“The data is given to local officials to help with awareness and decision making,” said NEST supervisor Jacqueline Brandon. “The earth is an abundant source of naturally occurring radiation that varies measurably with location. Mapping these background fluctuations informs decisions made by local emergency officials and is a helpful contribution to the safety and security planning process.”

RSL’s NEST teams have been providing support for more and more large public events in recent years. Combined, the teams cover hundreds of square miles of terrain every year, collecting background data and supplying it to local stakeholders, helping ensure the safety of special events.

Recently, the NEST helicopter provided support to the Boston Marathon, having surveyed the event multiple times since 2014. Brandon said it’s been valuable to have several years of historical data for the highly popular race.

Other events include the Super Bowl and New Year’s Eve celebrations on the Las Vegas Strip.

“We’ve had quite a few events this year alone,” Brandon said.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway drew a crowd of 325,000 fans for the 106-year old race – the largest attendance since 2016.