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The AMS mission is to provide a rapid survey of radiation and contamination following a radiological emergency. AMS accomplishes this mission by using specially equipped aircrafts to conduct the surveys. These aircrafts are equipped to detect and measure radioactive contamination on the ground.
The flyovers are part of research by two federal security agencies to compare aerial and ground based mapping of radioactivity.“In some cases, ground-based monitoring may be superior. In others, aerial detection may be superior,” said Alan Remick, emergency response program manager for the National Nuclear Security Administration.
“Protection of the public from radiation exposure after a nuclear accident or radiological attack depends critically on the ability to track the path of plumes of radioactive materials,” said Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists...
Aerial mapping “will help to distinguish the signals of such events from (background) noise and improve the speed and accuracy of such tracking,” he said.
Mercury News (link from OP)