Milton “Mike” Mulligan has one of the most interesting positions in the SEE Program. Mike’s current Level 4 position provides technical support for ASPECT (Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology). In simple terms, this means the collection of airborne data to identify chemical vapors in plumes from train derailments, chemical plant fires, and explosions, thereby assisting emergency response personnel on the ground. This is accomplished by sending a manned aircraft with sensors capable of detecting, tracking, and mapping chemical vapor plumes to the disaster site. ASPECT is the nation’s only always-on-call emergency response system capable of mapping a chemical plume hazard.
Mike’s background prepared him well for his work with the EPA. Before obtaining a B.S. in Industrial Relations from Rockhurst College, Mike was a plane director on aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy for four years. Mike knows about planes and explosions: while launching jet aircraft aboard the USS Bennington, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, there was a major catapult explosion, resulting in injuries to nearly 200 sailors along with several deaths. Mike worked around the clock for many hours loading the wounded on to helicopters under the direct orders of the Evacuation Admiral. After college, Mike joined AT&T Microelectronics where he remained for 32 years, working his way up from a merchandise clerk to managing manufacturing facilities and, later, plant construction. While at AT&T Mike also served as Emergency Brigade Captain, directing the deployment of trained personnel in the event of a fire, medical emergency, or chemical spill.
In his current role, Mike keeps track of eight rolling cabinets of EPA tools, test equipment, portable lights and various other kinds of equipment; runs a milling machine; does some welding; and helps with logistics. He also does some limited computer work on the data feeds from the plane. Mike says the work is exciting and that he enjoys the travel involved with his duties. His team works with the Army, Homeland Security and other state and local government agencies. Some of their assignments not considered classified have involved looking for debris in the crash of the Challenger, forest fires in California, winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, being stationed within a few minutes of Washington, D.C., during the State of the Union address and near Pasadena during the Rose Bowl game.
ASPECT is still in the research and development phase and has been for the last five years. Consequently, Mike’s monitor, Mark Thomas, is a Ph.D. researcher who has lots of new ideas for the team to try out, thus eliminating any boredom that might set in between assignments. Mark says, “To us, he is ‘Mikey’ and he can work in this project for as long as he wants. When I give Mike an assignment, he gets it done. I feel like we put a lot on Mike. One time as we were working on the plane and had kerosene squirting into our eyes, I asked him if, when he was sitting behind a desk and managing 600 people, he ever thought he would be doing something like this!”
One of Mike’s teammates is Alan Cummings, a contractor who says of Mike, “Mike really does provide a lot of different kinds of support for the ASPECT program. He helps me build equipment that I design, he handles a lot of the logistical issues that we face, and he's willing to travel to the places where we test and develop the ASPECT platform capabilities and limitations. His company is always welcome, and he's helped us at Yuma Proving Grounds, Dugway Proving Grounds, the El Mirage tests in California, radar testing in Key West, and many more.”
After a tornado destroyed part of the warehouse containing their office a couple of years ago, Mike and his team have came to be known as the “Bat Boys”. The moniker came about because their current office address is Pillar 251, Door 32 in an underground cave housing other national emergency operations. With ASPECT on call and Mike on the team, the rest of us can feel a little safer thanks to their contributions to our homeland security.