Helicopter circling Phoenix scans for unusual radioactivity ahead of the Super Bowl

The National Nuclear Security Agency's gamma-ray sensing technology can spot any unusual activity by surveying the area.
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 4:24 PM MST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2023 at 1:19 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Over the past few days, you may have noticed a helicopter flying in a strange pattern over parts of Phoenix and Glendale. One security agency is working to prevent a mass-casualty event before the Super Bowl. They will continuously circle the Valley to survey with radioactive sensors to pick up any suspicious activity. “Everything around us, including ourselves, has some level of naturally occurring radioactive material in it,” said Daniel Haber with the National Nuclear Security Agency.

A peculiar low-flying helicopter flight pattern had some people curious this week. “This is all part of the security build-up for the Super Bowl,” Haber said. A map shows the flight path of a national nuclear security administration helicopter circling Phoenix and Glendale, but why? “So what we are doing is mapping radiation so that if something happens, mainly a release of radioactive material into the environment, we have a well-characterized baseline that we can refer back to,” said Haber.

In short, the NNSA is looking for nukes in Phoenix. “Based on the aircraft, there’s a suite of a variety of different radiation detection systems,” Haber added.

Their gamma-ray sensing technology can spot any unusual activity by surveying the area. “The flights come in to provide that baseline and then there is other NNSA personnel that come in to the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl to do ground-based operations paired with law enforcement,” he explained. Though this may sound alarming, it’s standard protocol. “It’s been going on for decades at a minimum. We support the Super Bowl every year. Wherever the Super Bowl happens to be,” he said.

They’ve never caught anyone planning to cause harm in the years since they began, but they say it’s a necessary practice they will continue. “The overall operation is very important to public health and safety. We want to make sure that nobody is bringing in materials that could be threatening to the public,” Haber said.

While a homemade nuclear explosive would be incredibly rare, as always if you see anything unusual or odd, report it to the police.