LIVERMORE, Calif.—Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have created a three-dimensional simulation of how a biological or chemical release could spread in and around Salt Lake City.
The simulation was not created in response to any known threat. But rather, it was made to display how a dangerous airborne substance would flow through downtown buildings in Salt Lake City as well as the outskirts of the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics in case of an accidental release or terrorist attack.
Scientists working in the Livermore Lab’s National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center used weather and wind flow data over topographical maps to determine how a release might spread over the area if it came from the surrounding mountainous areas, or if it was released in the Salt Lake basin.
Detailed weather data was fed into a three-dimensional model that portrays exactly how the layers of wind are blowing and how the winds will shift. The Salt Lake City simulation makes adjustments for how the buildings will block and channel the flow between them along street "canyons" (such as those found on downtown streets between high-rise buildings).
The simulation program, which will be capable of simulating a chemical, biological or radiological release in an urban environment any place in the world, is at the research stage and cannot operate in real time yet, said Jim Ellis, the center’s director.
"This is not operational yet," Ellis said. "But this is what we are capable of doing."
The Salt Lake City simulation was created before the Olympics as a model for potential future atmospheric releases in a largely populated area.
NARAC is the national emergency response service for real-time assessment of incidents involving nuclear, chemical, biological or natural hazardous material. The center’s main function is to support the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense for radiological releases.
When a hazardous material is accidentally released into the atmosphere, NARAC scientists can map the probable spread of contamination in time for an emergency manager to decide if taking protective action is necessary. Since 1979, NARAC has responded to more than 160 alerts, accidents and disasters and supported more than 850 exercises.
Besides accidental radiological releases, such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, NARAC has assessed natural disasters such as volcanic ash clouds (Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines) and earthquake-induced hazardous spills. The center also forecasted the path of smoke plumes from the Kuwaiti oil fires during the Gulf War and several toxic chemical accidents including the Tracy tire fire in 1999.
"We’re like the fire department," Ellis said. "Ready to go whenever we’re called on."
Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a national security laboratory, with a mission to ensure national security and apply science and technology to the important issues of our time. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.
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