Tuesday, September 26, 2017

#NatlPrep: Radiological Emergencies

Credit CDC PHE

Note: This is day 26 of National Preparedness Month . Follow this year’s campaign on Twitter by searching for the #NatlPrep hash tag.
This month, as part of NPM17, I’ll be rerunning some edited and updated older preparedness essays, along with some new ones. 


Until very recently, the notion that Americans might have to deal with a radiological emergency sounded like something out of the Cold War era (1950s to the 1980s), when multiple Soviet warheads were targeted on every major U.S. city and nuclear annihilation seemed all but unavoidable.
Today, while we’ve pulled back from that brink and have reduced our nuclear stockpiles by 80%, there still remain a variety of threats, including from terrorist organizations and rogue nations with limited nuclear capability.
Other radiological threats exist due to deliberate acts, accidents and natural disasters.  One need look only as far as the Fukushima disaster of 2011 or Chernobyl in 1986 to see how quickly a radiological emergency can affect a large population.
This from the CDC’s PHE website:
A radiological or nuclear incidents occurring within the U.S. homeland or elsewhere could take a number of forms, including: contamination of food or water with radioactive material; placement of radiation sources in public locations; detonation of radiological dispersal devices that scatter radioactive material over a populated area; an attack on a nuclear power plant or a high-level nuclear waste storage facility; or an improvised nuclear device.

The CDC's Emergency Preparedness and Response website lists 6 different types of potential radiological emergencies.
Radiation emergencies may be intentional (e.g., caused by terrorists) or unintentional. Below are some examples of different types of radiation emergencies. Click on the icons to find out what to do if a radiation emergency happens in your area.
Nuclear Emergencies
  • A nuclear emergency involves the explosion of a nuclear weapon or improvised nuclear device (IND).
  • The explosion produces an intense pulse of heat, light, air pressure, and radiation.
  • Nuclear explosions produce fallout (radioactive materials that can be carried long distances by the wind).
Dirty Bomb or Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD)
  • A dirty bomb (also known as a radiological dispersal device) is a mix of explosives such as dynamite, with radioactive powder or pellets.
  • A dirty bomb cannot create an atomic blast.
  • When the explosives are set off, the blast carries radioactive material into the surrounding area.
Radiological Exposure Device (RED)
  • A radiological exposure device (also called a hidden sealed source) is made of or contains radioactive material.
  • REDs are hidden from sight to expose people to radiation without their knowledge.
Nuclear Power Plant Accident
  • An accident at a nuclear power plant could release radiation over an area.
  • Nuclear power plants have many safety and security procedures in place and are closely monitored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
Transportation Accidents
  • It is very unlikely that a transportation accident involving radiation would result in any radiation-related injuries or illnesses.
  • Shipments involving significant amounts of radioactive material are required to have documentation, labels, and placards identifying their cargo as radioactive.
Occupational Accidents
  • Radiation sources are found in a wide range of settings such as health care facilities, research institutions, and manufacturing operations.
  • Accidents can occur if the radiation source is used improperly, or if safety controls fail.

The point of this blog is not to convince you that you should be preparing specifically for a radiological emergency - since being well prepared for far more common emergencies will cover most of your bases - but rather that you and your family should know what to do if a radiological release occurs.

The three basic tenants of radiation safety are:

Follow this link to review specifics on each of these topics, where you'll find a variety of information and helpful infographics - like the one below on decontamination - on what to do.


While a radiological hazard may be far down your list of `probable’ threats, being generally well prepared to shelter in place - and having a little bit of knowledge -  can go a long way towards protecting you and your family, even during a radiation emergency. 

For more on `all hazards’ preparedness, I’d invite you to visit: 
FEMA http://www.fema.gov/index.shtm
READY.GOV http://www.ready.gov/
AMERICAN RED CROSS http://www.redcross.org/
And for more on sheltering in place, you may wish to revisit:
When 72 Hours Isn’t Enough

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