EPA, Air Force launch surveillance jets in Katrina's wake

The U.S. Air Force and the Environmental Protection Agency are deploying aircraft mounted with surveillance equipment to monitor and analyze Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.

In an effort to assess the amount of spills and chemical releases along the Gulf Coast, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., EPA on Tuesday started launching Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) flight missions to conduct overflight assessments of the hurricane's damage.

ASPECT planes provide almost real-time information to first responders with information on potential chemical releases. The planes were unveiled in August 2003 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a joint effort between EPA and the Defense Department.

The small planes operated by EPA are equipped with high-tech sensor packages that provide emergency workers information regarding the size, shape, composition and concentration of gas plumes emanating from natural disasters, derailed trains, factory explosions or a terrorist attack.

EPA yesterday said its first ASPECT planes flew over New Orleans and Baton Rouge on Tuesday and the agency is planning on flying the planes over Mississippi and Alabama.

The Air Force said it launched its first U-2 Dragonlady aircraft to collect imagery of Hurricane Katrina's damage today to assist in recovery efforts. The plane is equipped with an Optical Bar Camera that can photograph large areas with high resolution.

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