NUSTL provides radioactive sources and technical assistance to the FBI Stabilization Program. Photo: NUSTL

The National Urban Security Technology Laboratory in New York City is run by the Department of Homeland Security, and in the post-9/11 era, it has become a hub of testing and developing first responder technologies for terrorism, especially for nuclear threats.

The lab would be eliminated in the proposed Trump Administration budget, part of DHS cuts to science and technology programs totaling $144 million.

A bipartisan group of legislators is now attempting to save the lab, but its fate remains uncertain.

The “Make America Secure and Prosperous” package was proposed in the House by Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY), a Republican from Staten Island. The linked appropriations bills – which included funding for Pres. Donald Trump’s “border wall” between the U.S. and Mexico – were passed in September, and would “save” the laboratory, the Congressman said in a statement on Sept. 12.

“NUSTL is constantly developing and testing new tools that ensure the brave men and women on our front lines can protect our homeland, and it’s critical they have resources to continue their innovative work,” said Donovan, in a statement at the time.

But it appears the funding for the laboratory – some $3.4 million – has not been as forthcoming in the Senate.

A group of four Democratic senators sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee asking for the laboratory to be funded. The four senators - Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey - urge the subcommittee to ensure the viability of the laboratory, they wrote in September. The NUSTL has tested over 20,000 radiation detectors for first responders, and trained and provided technical support to thousands of law enforcement officers in the country, they write.

"For over 65 years, NUSTL has served as the only national laboratory focused on exclusively on first responders - providing information and services to first responders that simply cannot be received elsewhere," the senators wrote. "These contrdictory and careless cuts would weaken our defenses and imperil our homeland."

The lab was instituted at the beginning of the Cold War in 1947. Originally within the Department of Energy, it was transferred to DHS in 2003. Since 9/11, it has supplied first responders with equipment like radiation detectors and other tools, which are the products of the laboratory’s research, testing and validation. Often, the equipment is supplied and tested by the local first responders, like the Fire Department of New York (FDNY).

“The Fire Department utilizes NUSTL resources on an approximately weekly basis to support our ability to address critical security threats,” said Daniel Nigro, the FDNY commissioner. “Closing NUSTL would negatively affect preparedness and response planning for terrorist incidents, industrial accidents, and routine emergencies.”

Donovan, the State Island congressman, toured the facility in August, and got a firsthand look at tools being put to use like radiation and thermal detectors, as well as drones.

“Today, the United States – and specifically New York City – faces a heightened terror environment,” he said. “Bombing attempts in New York and New Jersey last year, as well as global attacks in public areas and on mass transit systems, remind us of the importance of developing innovative technologies that allow security personnel to respond to and mitigate evolving threats.”