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ODU's Sechrist Learns About Dirty Bombs, Keeps Eye Out for Aliens

If you know Scott Sechrist, associate professor and director of Old Dominion's Nuclear Medicine Technology Program, you won't be surprised to learn he recently spent some time near the infamous Area 51 military base in the Nevada desert.

Sechrist is well known at ODU for his adventurous spirit, both on and off the job, so a trip to a place where rumors of alien spaceships are rife was simply par for the course.

Although he didn't see any flying saucers during his time in the desert this summer, Sechrist did learn a great deal about something that isn't science fiction: how to respond to an incident involving a radiological or nuclear weapon of mass destruction, such as a radiological dispersal device (RDD) or improvised nuclear device (IND).

In July, he attended the Weapons of Mass Destruction Radiological/Nuclear Course for Hazardous Materials Technicians. The course, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/FEMA/National Preparedness Directorate, is designed to teach first responders, including health care professionals, how to operate following a radiological/nuclear disaster.

Recently, Sechrist had noticed that at several of his program's clinical affiliate centers and hospitals, many of his nuclear medicine students and graduates were being asked to be involved in disaster drills for RDDs, more commonly known as dirty bombs.

"I felt I should get trained as well," said Sechrist. "I also took the 'Train the Trainer' course so I can now offer training to others, including my current students, my graduates and the local first responder community."

The course sent Sechrist out into the harsh landscape of the desert at the Nevada National Security Site, and specifically in spots not too far from Area 51, known as Area 10 and Area 23.

"I got hands-on experience in locating nuclear material, surveying areas for isodose [defined as a radiation dose of equal intensity to more than one body area] line creation and search-and-rescue techniques in simulated burning buildings after a nuclear incident," he said. "I also learned a lot about the operation of the radiation survey meters and dosimeters typically available for first responders, such as firefighters, etc."

Although Sechrist and his fellow students in the course were taken on a tour of the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas and to see bomb craters and test facilities, they were not given a chance to look around Area 51, often the subject of conspiracy theories and UFO folklore. Still, if ever there were an opportunity to look for radiated alien life forms in the Nevada desert, no doubt Sechrist, with the help of his newly acquired skills, would be happy to take on such an adventure.

This article was posted on: September 13, 2011

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