Low-flying helicopters will be seen over downtown Washington, D.C., and the National Mall beginning on Monday to assess radiation levels in the city before the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20.
The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said in a statement that it will be conducting the flights to measure naturally occurring background radiation “as part of standard preparations to protect public health and safety on the day of the event.”
The flights will only occur during daylight hours in a grid pattern 150 feet above the ground at a speed of approximately 80 mph.
NNSA said in its release that the flights are “purely scientific in nature” and no surveillance will be conducted. It urged citizens not to become alarmed at the sight of the low-flying aircraft.
Similar flights often take place prior to newsworthy events that gather large crowds, including over Atlanta before the 2019 Super Bowl and over Charlotte, N.C., in August prior to the Republican National Convention.
The twin-engine Bell 413 helicopter is part of the NNSA’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team and will be equipped with “sensitive, state-of-the-art passive radiation sensing technology,” according to a statement.
The NNSA’s Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation Program works to prevent and respond to a “terrorist or other adversary actor with a nuclear or radiological device,” according to the agency’s website. The program is designed to respond to stolen or misplaced radioactive materials, a nuclear weapon out of the control of a nation-state or an improvised nuclear device.
The 2021 presidential inauguration is expected to see dramatically reduced crowds due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntLucas Kunce: Deadly civilian drone strike is reminder that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan 'is not worth it' GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' Missouri official asks court to suspend McCloskeys' law licenses MORE (R-Mo.), who chairs a bicameral panel tasked with planning the 59th inaugural ceremony, predicted that the January event would likely include some social distancing measures.
The District currently has some coronavirus restrictions in place, including a ban on mass gatherings of more than 50 people and quarantine requirements for travelers from some states.