Expertise and Impact

At ORAU, our capabilities have grown in direct response to an effort to connect with and support our customers’ needs. We have built deep subject matter expertise in scientific research and education, environment, health and national security and have also integrated our skills across the board to provide comprehensive solutions for our customers. From providing services such as training and assessments to customizing tools and technology, ORAU’s expertise has strongly impacted critical national and international needs in 2011.

While ORAU has the capability to support an actual emergency response, such as the Japan disaster, we are also continually preparing others who need to be ready to respond through training and exercises.

The three-day Golden Guardian 2011 exercise tested California’s ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from a catastrophic flood based in the Inland Region.

Photo credit: California Emergency Management Agency


Preparing California for natural disasters

Spanning more than 160,000 square miles that include some of the United States’ most diverse terrains and more than 37,000,000 people, California is at risk for emergencies, such as earthquakes, fires and more. ORAU is working with the California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA) to make sure the state is ready to respond to and recover from any disaster.

In 2011, CalEMA’s exercise series Golden Guardian, the largest state-level program in the country, tested California’s ability and process in responding to and recovering from a catastrophic flood in the Inland Region, as pictured here. The exercise included more than 5,000 participants from agencies ranging from the local to federal levels. The three-day event included a full-scale exercise as well as more than 20 seminars, tabletop exercises and simulation cell training sessions. Emergency plans for the 18 participating operational areas, or counties, were tested. In coordination with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, current California state emergency plan functions were assessed, including communication, management, public information, care and shelter, and evacuation and recovery.

ORAU-led training and exercise programs for California have become a standard for other states in the U.S. ORAU trainers and exercise planners also lead emergency preparedness programs for countries around the world for natural disasters and incidents involving terrorism, radiation and other hazards…

Training emergency responders in Mexico for Pan American Games

REAC/TS staff deliver training courses to medical professionals, emergency responsders and health officials to prepare them in the event medical assistance is needed during a radiation emergency.

In 2011, Mexico hosted more than 6,000 athletes from 42 countries for the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara. In preparation for the games, the U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE NNSA), in cooperation with Mexico’s National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards and the National Center for Disaster Prevention, took action to expand Mexico’s response capabilities in the event of radiological terrorism. The Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site, managed by ORAU for DOE-NNSA, conducted a four-day workshop on radiological contamination and accident casualties, which was attended by 220 physicians, nurses, hospital administrators, emergency personnel and members of the Mexican Red Cross.

As important as it is to ensure emergency readiness at the national, international and state levels, local community responders need special training because they are often faced with an onslaught of victims immediately following a disaster and many times do not have the resources or capacity to handle those situations. ORAU provides the tools and training necessary to ensure communities are well prepared…

Patients waiting to enter clinic.

Enhancing mass casualty radiation emergency preparedness with 3-D virtual training

Following a radiation emergency, public health professionals will help screen people for contamination, assess radiation exposures and arrange treatment for those who need it. These combined services are known as population monitoring, and many health departments are not prepared to conduct them by using a network of community reception centers.

To aid health departments in their radiation response planning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ORAU developed the Virtual Community Reception Center (VCRC)—a Web-based, training tool that uses a simulated, 3-D environment to educate users about the reception center process.

Virtual Community Reception Center (VCRC) screen capture

Since launching in September 2010, the free site has been accessed by more than 5,700 users. During the March 2011 Japan nuclear crisis specifically, site administrators noted heavy usage spikes with increased traffic from Washington, D.C., and California as the U.S. reacted and responded to this international event. ORAU has also distributed more than 2,000 CDs of the program at national conferences and has included it as a resource in the CDC Public Health Toolkits for Radiological Preparedness. The vCRC is approved for a variety of continuing education credits.

When the incident is a result of a terrorist attack involving chemical threats, having ready access to the medicines to counteract those nerve-damaging agents is critical. ORAU’s expertise positions us to help agencies inventory, track and prepare to quickly make available the needed antidotes to local governments and health care providers…

Tracking nerve agent antidotes online ensures faster response time

Amber vials

In the event of a terrorist attack on civilians involving chemical nerve agents, the timely and effective use of medical countermeasures such as antidotes is essential. However, state and local governments and hospitals have either no access to these antidotes or carry only limited supplies that can also have very brief shelf lives, making their supplies difficult to sustain. To help these entities prepare for such a need, ORAU experts assisted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s CHEMPACK program by creating the Cache Locator Application, which allows for online tracking of accessible supplies, or caches, of nerve agent antidotes.

CHEMPACK, a program managed by the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response’s Division of Strategic National Stockpile, previously tracked nerve agent antidote containers for its state and local partners on spreadsheets and proprietary inventory management systems. These tracking mechanisms did not support access by the user community. Now through a password-protected Web portal, authorized users access the CLA to view cache site information via Web mapping technology.

The CLA flags cache locations on a map and reveals details such as the container’s quantity of antidotes and the address and contact information. The application also allows CHEMPACK users to view container history, update container details and run reports. Currently, nearly 450 users across the country access the CLA for this information.

Threats to national security have steadily increased, and the U.S. has responded with a wide array of counterterrorism measures, including fingerprint analysis and other forensic science techniques. ORAU is one of the largest private employers of forensic laboratory professionals in the U.S., and our experts have decades of experience, ranging from law enforcement to military agencies and the FBI…

Under the microscope

As threats to national security continue around the world, ORAU has a full arsenal of expertise in latent fingerprint, toolmark analysis, trace evidence and forensic photography disciplines to analyze evidence and help identify and prosecute those responsible. These are two of our experts:

Truth in fingerprints

Imogene Van Buren, a group manager for ORAU’s latent fingerprint group, has helped families find closure by identifying victims after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. Also by applying her experience to identify fingerprints left on various pieces of evidence, she is helping to protect U.S. citizens around the globe.

Imogene Van Buren

Finding the mark of a criminal

James Cadigan, an ORAU forensic examiner specializing in firearm and tool mark analysis, investigated some of America’s darkest events throughout his career—including the Oklahoma City and World Trade Center bombings. Today, he’s continuing to help protect U.S. national security interests.

James Cadigan

At the heart of science and technology is a strong foundation in the understanding and practice of research. For 65 years, ORAU has been helping prepare future science and technology leaders for tomorrow’s challenges by admininstering robust science education and research participation programs…

From schoolroom to science lab, helping prepare tomorrow’s science and technology leaders

in stem fields

Expanding the nation’s pool of talent to ensure global competitiveness in science and technology is a significant priority for the U.S. Supporting more than 330 federal laboratories and research centers, ORAU has 65 years of experience in science education. We administer internship, scholarship and fellowship programs for students, faculty and postdoctoral researchers, such as University of Tennessee student Tyler Pannell, a participant in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) research program, pictured above with his Oak Ridge National Laboratory mentor Abhijeet Borole, Ph.D. Pannell explored ways to use food waste to develop microbial fuel cells aimed at helping industry to re-use its wastewater. In 2011, 96% of these research participants held program appointments in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

ORAU also promotes the STEM education of K-12 students and teachers through programs such as ORAU’s Extreme Classroom Makeover, DOE’s Tennessee and National Science Bowls, summer science academies with the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Siemens Teachers as Researchers program. In 2011, participation in ORAU-administered programs totaled 7,700, with participants representing every state in the nation. Expenditures for these programs and other educational initiatives managed by ORAU totaled $200 million.


Researcher helps find ways to reduce costs of producing alternative energy

Charlee Bennett, Ph.D.

Charlee Bennett, Ph.D., served from 2009 to 2011 as the associate lead in developing the Center for Advanced Thin Film Systems (CATS) lab at ORNL. Through the Postdoctoral Research Associate Program, managed by ORAU, she studied solar technologies to help companies reduce costs of producing alternative energy. Bennett holds master’s and doctorate degrees in materials science and engineering from the University of Florida.


Student's explosive analysis could lead to safer skies

Eric Dulmes

Hope College undergraduate Eric Dulmes measured the impulse of test aircraft explosions by using a high-speed video as part of his summer 2011 internship with the DHS Transportation Security Laboratory. The tests examined the strength of explosives at specific sizes and distances and helped predict the severity of damage that could potentially be caused to an airplane. The DHS program is administered by ORISE, which is managed by ORAU.


Fellowship helps researcher see the big picture in microbial communities

Angela Hartsock, Ph.D.

Angela Hartsock, Ph.D., a research fellow at the National Energy Technology Laboratory is analyzing ways to treat and reuse wastewater associated with oil and gas drilling. Hartsock’s 2011-2012 fellowship is part of a National Energy Technology Laboratory-funded research program, which is administered by ORISE and managed by ORAU. Hartsock earned her doctorate degree in microbiology from Cornell University.

As students and faculty tackle research challenges alongside scientists at national laboratories, ORAU experts are tackling environmental challenges at legacy facilities and adjacent property…

Tackling environmental challenges with specialized techniques and tools

In work performed for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in fiscal year 2011—as part of the DOE Oak Ridge Office’s efforts to reduce the number of radiologically and chemically contaminated facilities on the Oak Ridge Reservation—ORAU applied several specialized techniques and tools to address various project challenges.

ORAU used specialized equipment to perform characterization surveys of indoor facilities not accessible using Global Positioning Systems.

One of the challenges presented was the characterization of DOE’s 2.8-million-square-foot facility known as K-33, which was formerly used to house a uranium-enrichment operation during the Manhattan project. The characterization, completed in FY11, required ORAU to map the interior of the structure—floors, walls and ceilings—to provide DOE information on the nature and extent of radiological and chemical contamination at hundreds of sample and measurement locations. For part of this work, the ORAU project team had to look beyond standard characterization equipment, which utilizes global positioning systems to capture the location and scan information. Because this project was indoors, the building’s structure blocked the GPS signal. To solve the problem, the project team combined off-the-shelf land survey technology to provide the x-y-z coordinates with a standard radiation ratemeter and then developed a software package that allowed the two systems to communicate with each other. The resulting equipment generated a three-dimensional map from within the building that precisely showed the locations and levels for the existing radiological contamination.

ORAU also incorporated a versatile industry tool—X-ray fluorescence—in another DOE-related project requiring some initial characterization work at the Y-12 National Security Complex’s 81-10 area, a former mercury recovery and storage site. For this project, the team incorporated X-ray fluorescence analysis, in the form of a portable, handheld device, for subsurface soil investigations to help determine the nature and extent of mercury contamination. Analyzing soil cores in one-foot intervals from approximately 30 borehole locations resulted in more than 900 individual XRF measurements. The XRF provided immediate data during field screening, which saved laboratory analytical costs.

Another technique used by ORAU, called waste lot profiling, can be used to characterize the level and type of contamination found in an existing building that is scheduled for demolition or a site where demolition has occurred. This process, when successfully applied, can save customers both money and time by providing them an accurate picture of the waste lot’s content, enabling them to make faster, well- informed decisions about how the waste should be handled per federal and local regulations. For example, in recent work for DOE, ORAU used this technique on approximately 164,000 tons of hazardous material from K-33 to assess for proper disposition. The project team compiled the waste profiles by gathering anecdotal evidence and field data collected through activities such as nondestructive testing and intrusive sample results. Beyond the tangible savings of time and money, effective applications of waste lot profiling allowed for better protection of personnel by lowering the risk of encountering unknown contaminants.

tons of hazardous material

Through the use of these and other tools and techniques, ORAU customers have realized projects savings in both time and money. For DOE alone, performing upfront characterization on K-33 saved more than $1.7 million, while other work by ORAU shaved six to 12 months off the time needed have a project “shovel-ready” for demolition. 

Map of DOE National Priorities located in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Helping reduce and repurpose DOE lands through environmental assessment expertise

ORAU survey techinicians often perform water sampling to determine whether land is potentially contaminated with radioactive elements.
more than22,000

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is undergoing a multiyear effort to substantially reduce its 33,700-acre National Priorities List (NPL) footprint within the Oak Ridge Reservation. The ultimate goal is to reduce it to less than half its current size and give DOE the ability to repurpose the land for industrial and other uses in the community. DOE sought ORAU’s expertise in environmental characterization to help verify what portions of this land can be classified as “clean”  per the standards outlined in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund. The project, which began with 5,200 acres in 2010, has since expanded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to encompass more than 22,000 acres.

The land being assessed includes the East Tennessee Technology Park, as well as the Y-12 National Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In 1989, the EPA determined that all land associated with the Oak Ridge Reservation would be classified as one property on its NPL and require assessment before being released for other use. The NPL identifies those parcels of land throughout the United States that are known to have released or have the potential of releasing hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants and is intended to guide the EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation.

Coordinating with DOE, the EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, ORAU is tasked with collecting soil, sediment, groundwater and surface water samples and analyzing them for metals, semivolatile and volatile organic compounds, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and radionuclides. Additionally, ORAU has completed site walk downs and is developing conceptual groundwater models to predict potential contaminant migration from known sources either on or adjacent to the parcels of land. At the same time, ORAU is helping DOE minimize unnecessary costs by assessing what, if any, specific portions of the land contain contamination that must be addressed rather than conducting broad-scope cleanup efforts. In 2011, ORAU completed assessment of all 22,000 acres, and report development and submittal is in process. This work will continue into 2012.

Through this effort, DOE has already worked with the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee, an economic development organization, to lease several parcels back to the private sector, such as the East Tennessee Technology Park and the Heritage Center that is now housed on property that previously was part of the K-25 plant, a former uranium enrichment facility.

While ORAU’s specialists are helping to ensure the environmental health of DOE facilities and lands, our epidemiologists, health physicists and industrial hygienists are working to help the government track, trend and improve the health of its current and former workforce…

ORAU provides training and technical expertise in epidemiology, industrial hygiene, health physics, record and data management, and system design to address worker health needs.
million records

Expanding scope for worker health data and training

Partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and other federal agencies for many decades, ORAU has become a national repository of data for worker health information. Through multiple databases, the system covers more than 3.5 million de-identified, active and former workers and includes approximately 26.5 million health surveillance, exposure and work history records from hundreds of DOE sites and NRC-licensed facilities around the country.

From 2010 into 2011, ORAU processed and incorporated more than 17 million records for approximately 1.1 million workers into our databases—nearly tripling the number of records ORAU had managed prior to 2011.

More than 15 million of these records resulted from ORAU assuming the management of and making publically available the DOE Comprehensive Epidemiologic Data Resource this year. CEDR is a Web-based database of health studies of DOE workers and environmental studies surrounding DOE facilities. The data captured here reflect research information compiled on these workers to help determine whether there may have been health outcomes related to work in DOE facilities. ORAU redesigned the entire website for CEDR, which includes 76 studies of more than a million workers at 31 DOE sites. Information from this site is now being used by academia for teaching purposes, and by ORAU and other epidemiologists and researchers as reference material, and to validate other studies. 

Also this year, the NRC—for whom ORAU manages the Radiation Exposure Information and Reporting System database—extended its contract with ORAU for five years and expanded the scope of work to include training for NRC staff across the country to better understand the salient information and data trends found in key epidemiological studies.

Within ORAU’s extensive system of databases, registries of exposure and beryllium sensitization data can also be maintained, such as for DOE’s Beryllium Registry. Through this database, more than 28,000 workers from 21 DOE sites are tracked providing useful information for future epidemiologic analysis. In 2011, ORAU processed more than 51,000 records covering approximately 20,000 employees. ORAU also manages one of only four nationally certified labs for beryllium lymphocyte proliferation testing. In 2011, ORAU performed 4,768 of these tests to help workers who have been exposed to beryllium dust or fumes know whether they have developed a sensitization that could evolve into chronic beryllium disease. 

Leveraging more than 30 years of technical expertise in epidemiological, industrial hygiene, health physics, record and data management, and system design, ORAU has established a proven track record as a comprehensive source for addressing worker health needs.

ORAU continues to support the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) by teaming with partners—MJW Technical Services, Inc., and Dade Moeller and Associates—to provide dose reconstruction for former energy workers.

Reconstructing worker dose exposure histories for illness compensation

For nearly a decade, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has contracted with ORAU to reconstruct the dose exposure histories of more than 30,000 U.S. Department of Energy workers and contractors. This effort has helped to ensure that energy employees who may have radiation-related cancers are compensated. In 2011, ORAU and partners—MJW Technical Services, Inc., and Dade Moeller and Associates—successfully addressed nearly 5,000 complicated radiation dose reconstructions that were previously unresolved due to intricate technical issues associated with the historical operation of more than 300 sites in the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. The result was the ability to address the concerns of claimants who had been waiting to learn whether they would be compensated.

In FY11, ORAU was awarded an additional contract from NIOSH for industrial hygiene work, including dose reconstruction for radiation, chemical and other exposures. Potential work from this contract will include data gathering and management, statistical analysis and other investigative work related to occupational exposures.

From answering worker health concerns to assisting with efforts to find alternative energy sources, ORAU’s support to the energy industry is helping to address critical national needs…

Facilitating first national energy research summit leads to more talks

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu

In an effort to explore answers to critical energy challenges, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science sponsored the inaugural “Science for Our Nation’s Energy Future: Energy Frontier Research Centers Summit and Forum” in Washington, D.C., in May 2011.

For the three-day meeting, ORAU provided all up-front planning, as well as other on-site logistics, and facilitation of 36 parallel technical sessions and three poster sessions involving more than 300 posters.

This support allowed members of Congress, along with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Ph.D. (pictured here), the Under Secretary of Science Dr. Steven Koonin, the Director of the Office of Science William Brinkman and more than 1,000 policy and science leaders from government and industry to come together to discuss these energy challenges and promote collaborations throughout our nation’s energy enterprise. Given its success, the summit will be reconvened by the Energy Frontier Research Centers on a semiannual basis.

To enhance the peer reviews of programs for DOE and other agencies, ORAU has developed and continued to improve various technology-based tools, such as our PeerNet system, to streamline the review and evaluation process…

Streamlining peer reviews for DOE-EERE with improved tools and processes

Hybrid vehicle

Each year, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy must review the progress and results of hundreds of funded research projects in hydrogen, fuel cells and advanced vehicle technologies. For DOE-EERE’s 2011 Annual Merit Review and Peer Evaluation, more than 500 presentations of such projects were evaluated for merit and continued funding with the help of ORAU’s peer review expertise.

To address the challenges of a review of this size, ORAU customized off-the-shelf software to streamline the review process. This allowed for presentations to be reviewed and approved prior to being assigned to more than 325 reviewers. It also helped manage reviewer selection and scheduling, taking into account conflicts of interest, reviewer expertise and availability. In addition, the status of any of these elements could be tracked and a variety of reports or other information could be generated for reviewers or program sponsors.

million investment

ORAU also provided peer review support to EERE’s Geothermal Technologies Program, which this year reviewed the most projects in its history—approximately 170—representing a DOE investment of more than $350 million. For this project, ORAU’s process recommendation of allowing funded researchers the opportunity to respond to comments provided by expert reviewers greatly increased the quality of the review’s outcomes. These outcomes included perspectives from both technical experts and principal investigators and provided DOE program managers with the depth and rigor needed to make decisions regarding the viability of currently funded programs and their ability to further advance DOE’s overall mission.

PeerNet is used by subject matter experts to evaluate and provide feedback on research proposals that help government agencies make informed decisions about how to invest their research dollars.

Giving a functionality facelift to ORAU’s peer review system, PeerNet

PeerNet has been a secure and effective tool for peer review management and other evaluations for ORAU’s customers for more than a decade. The Web-based system operates on a straightforward concept of providing documents to reviewers for evaluation, collecting and compiling reviewers’ feedback and scores, summarizing the feedback, performing scoring calculations and then providing extensive reporting of the evaluation results.

But over the years, despite several updates, the system design had become out of sync with current Web-based applications standards for usability, impacting more than 2,300 reviewers and 300 customers using PeerNet. Integrating usability expertise along with reviewer and customer input, ORAU gave PeerNet a major facelift in 2011, which included a complete redesign of the look, navigation and overall functionality of the system.

Users can now create and manage their own password-protected accounts and be assigned access to online evaluations and review documents instantly. Customers can prepare and customize various reports of reviewers’ comments online 24/7 and easily send them back to the principal investigators of the projects being reviewed. In addition to several other upgrades, system accessibility for those with disabilities is now greatly enhanced and Web browser compatibility has also been improved.

In an effort to make the transition to the new system easy for users, ORAU’s team held instructional webinars, provided transition guides with an overview of new features and frequently asked questions, and established an ongoing PeerNet support email account. In addition, each customer has an ORAU point of contact established as their primary resource for information and support with the system. Initial reviewer feedback in response to an online survey about the revamped system has been very positive.