Hollywood Doesn’t Always Portray Things From the Right ASPECT: Directors Cut

I started watching the first season of Friday Night Lights during the holidays.  I’m not sure how I missed watching the show the first time around.  I’ve read the book by H.G. Bissinger a couple of times, and didn’t realize until the second read through that the kids were actually my age. In fact as a Penn Quaker I might have stared across the field at Permian’s tight end who went to Harvard.  I digress.  In one of the last episodes of the first season, a chemical accident causes their home game to be moved.  On screen the mayor of the town comes in and says something to the effect of, “EPA is shutting everything down.”  I chuckled knowing that if such an event occurred the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) not the EPA would be the folks who would have things well in hand and make any such call regarding risks to the public.  It reminded me of a post a made four years ago on another blog.  I’ve revised and extended my remarks in bold, italic, brackets, to cover an oversight I made in the initial post.

Movies require you to suspend your disbelief, but when you watch a film that hits close to home it can be tough. I have a friend in federal law enforcement who squirms when cardboard cutout agents run across the screen. Action flicks don’t do his profession justice, but at least his job is sometimes glorified on celluloid. The only two movies I can remember featuring a prominent EPA employee are Ghostbusters and the Simpsons Movie, [ok I was also reminded of  Fire Down Below but I will never admit to having watched that movie] neither of which ever made a kid say, “Man, when I grow up I want to work for the EPA.” On the off-chance your youngster was inspired to seek out public service please let them know we don’t inspect unlicensed nuclear storage facilities, nor do we have a fleet of helicopters. We do however, have one cool plane.

EPA’s Airborne Spectral Photometric Collection Technology, known as ASPECT, is an aircraft equipped with sensors that allow for surveillance of gaseous chemical releases from a safe distance. ASPECT gives emergency responders information regarding the shape, composition and concentration of gas plumes from disasters such as a derailed train, factory explosion or terrorist attack.

Since its inception ASPECT has flown over several fires, provided support during the Olympics and Columbia shuttle recovery, and supplied some of the first aerial images of the devastation along the coast during Katrina.

This was the scene in Kansas City outside our office windows in 2007 when a chemical facility went up in flames. ASPECT deployed and was instrumental in verifying that while ominous, the fire did not present a significant health threat to the community (the white signature you see below is the fire down below) [Fire Down Below credits “Anonymous” as the writer…Still on the fence about watching?].

Most of the technology you see in movies is sheer fantasy, but EPA’s high-tech plane and the scientists who operate it are worthy of a spot in the next summer blockbuster. Here’s hoping for the appearance of an EPA scientist who isn’t a bad guy (although with my face the best I could hope for is Thug #4 in the next straight to DVD clunker) [OK, Steven Seagal is supposed to be a good guy but I’ll let you be the judge].

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division. During highschool Jeff used to work at West Coast Video, where he watched most of Seagal’s work in the late 1980s and early 1990s.