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The National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) celebrates its 70th anniversary of service to the nation this month. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) laboratory commemorates seven decades of remarkable history -- from measuring radioactive fallout during the Cold War, to conducting operational assessments of first responder technologies today. While much has changed over the years, the heart of NUSTL’s mission is still focused on the safety and security of the American people.
NUSTL’s History from the Manhattan Project to Homeland Security
“Our last 70 years in service acknowledges the significant importance of science and technology in critical areas of national security,” said Dr. Adam Hutter, NUSTL Director.
Today, NUSTL is home to a vast range of capabilities serving the first responder community, including the testing and evaluation of technologies to better understand and mitigate current and future homeland security threats. Laboratory staff members provide a critical scientific interface with a myriad of first responders and end-users in the field for the accelerated delivery and successful end-user deployment of technologies and systems, not just in New York, but across the country. Most recently, NUSTL executed the first part of Technical Assessment of Counter UAS (C-UAS) Technologies in Cities (TACTIC) at the Marine Corps Base Urban Training Center in Quantico, Virginia. TACTIC assesses C-UAS technologies and their abilities to detect, track and identify different small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) under varying conditions and use cases.
As of this year, NUSTL has tested and deployed more than 20,000 units of radiological detection equipment, including personal radiation detectors, backpack detectors, mobile detection units and radioisotope identifiers worth more than $42 million, through its Performance Test & Evaluation at NUSTL (PTEN) program. As a result, first responders have increased confidence in their equipment because they know that each unit has been independently tested.
The laboratory formed in 1947 under the Medical Division of the Atomic Energy Commission to serve the massive research effort that led to the development of the atomic bomb. In the 1950’s, the newly named Health and Safety Laboratory shifted its focus to a growing national concern of radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons tests, and used its network of monitoring stations for fallout assessments. The laboratory soon earned its reputation as a world leader in environmental radiation measurements. Its network of air monitoring stations expanded to assess soil and water samples; air filter samples at the surface and in the stratosphere; and biological samples and measurements of wet and dry fallout. In 1977, its name changed to the Environmental Measurements Laboratory (EML) and realigned to the newly created U.S. Department of Energy. The laboratory’s primary focus was to support environmental monitoring, decommissioning, decontamination and remediation efforts. Following the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear accidents, EML took immediate measurements that provided the ability to accurately and comprehensively reconstruct the environmental contamination that resulted from these events.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush signed legislation to create DHS. EML became part of DHS in 2003 to support homeland security activities under S&T. The final name change occurred in 2009 when EML became NUSTL.
“NUSTL provides research, testing and evaluation capabilities that are essential to the Homeland Security Enterprise and to solving the challenges faced by the nation’s first responders. We are proud of our longstanding history and the impact our services have made— and we expect to be celebrating our successes for many years to come,” Hutter continued.
NUSTL produces a variety of consumer reports for first responder technologies. Through NUSTL’s System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) program, the laboratory conducts operational field assessments of commercially available and emerging technologies to help inform acquisition decision making. Results and analyses are made available to the national first responder community through the SAVER Library.
For more information on NUSTL’s history and capabilities, please contact NUSTL@hq.dhs.gov.