Success Story

Radiological Emergency Management System (REMS)

The Radiological Emergency Management System (REMS) is a post-event gamma radiation sensor network designed for response and recovery after an accidental or deliberate release of radiation in an urban area. History has taught that advance planning, coupled with the availability of accurate, real-time information about an emergency incident, can significantly enhance response capabilities. It is to this end that REMS was conceived, pilot-tested, commercialized, and deployed in New York City.

Organized under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) is a federal laboratory located in New York City. The Laboratory formed the idea for REMS shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, when NUSTL scientists and engineers began investigating potential designs for the system.

Over a six-year period, the Lab conducted a pilot of a small REMS network comprising sensors located on rooftops of buildings in Manhattan. The success of the pilot led the New York Police Department (NYPD) to commit to a citywide implementation of REMS. To support this large-scale deployment, NUSTL’s concept and design were commercialized via a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with a major instrument manufacturer. REMS is an allowable equipment expenditure under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Authorized Equipment List, and so DHS funds can be used for acquisition by the NYPD or other state/local/tribal/territorial agency.

Currently, numerous REMS sensors are installed on buildings throughout the City in a staged deployment. Each sensor in the REMS network continuously measures environmental radiation levels and sends real-time data to a central command center. REMS sensors also provide gamma spectroscopy data used to identify the isotope responsible for the radiation. In the event of a radiation release, the system provides emergency managers with a single picture of the threat early in the incident. Specifically, the system informs emergency managers of radiation levels before responders enter an affected area, provides guidance on which areas to evacuate versus shelter-in-place, and offers officials timely information about potential radiation exposure. By communicating exposure information to the public early on, officials can reduce unnecessary evacuations and panic. Additionally, data from REMS can be used to predict the path of a radioactive plume when integrated with an atmospheric plume dispersion model, enabling advance warning to affected areas. Not only does REMS serve life-saving purposes, but the system also enables economic recovery by preventing unnecessary evacuations and expediting the return of residents to areas of the City that are deemed safe.

The NYPD currently owns and operates its own REMS network, for which NUSTL continues to provide technical expertise and services in support of system implementation and operation. NUSTL performs independent testing of the sensors before they are installed, and has developed a comprehensive test plan to ensure proper operation of the sensors, communications, and system software. The NYPD considers NUSTL to be a valuable and essential partner, and Laboratory staff often advises them on issues from the selection of optimal sensor locations to the advanced interpretation of radiation data during an emergency. The successful partnership experience of NUSTL and New York City with REMS provides a model for expansion of post-event radiation detection systems to other cities.