Radiation preparednessBetter decisions during a radiological emergency

Published 20 July 2018

Whether a catastrophe is natural or man-made, emergency managers need to respond quickly with the optimal solution. Making decisions on the fly can be difficult, which is why significant planning must go into a disaster response strategy. Many conversations need to happen, and they need to cover a range of possible scenarios. The Radiation Decontamination tool Rad Decon was developed to facilitate those very discussions during a radiological emergency.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident on 11 March 2011 resulted in public misconception that radioactive fallout would impact the west coast of the United States. State and local emergency managers did not have an effective way to communicate or project the effects, which led to disparate reporting and conflicting messages conveyed by the media.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) identified the need for a systematic platform where technically accurate and decision-making information could be easily shared across state, municipal and tribal jurisdictions. They contacted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) – DHS’s research and development arm – for assistance.

S&T says that that partnership has grown beneficially for both organizations and generated numerous success stories. Since 2015, S&T’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL), a testing and evaluation laboratory with a first responder focus located in New York City, has worked with RadResponder, a multi-function online network for emergency managers, first responders and radiation subject matter experts.

RadResponder is identified in the 2016 Nuclear Radiological Incident Annex as the national system for radiation data aggregation and is considered the standard resource for giving emergency managers a common operating picture, whether planning for the future or monitoring radiation in real time. Groups and individuals involved in radiation response can request to create an online account and become part of this network, which currently includes thousands of organizations and individual first responders.

“RadResponder builds capabilities for state and local response and connects them with federal assets from FEMA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE),” said Ben Stevenson, an S&T Program Manager located at NUSTL.

While FEMA owns RadResponder, S&T, EPA and DOE have supported the development of some tools within the network. In January 2018, FEMA adopted the Radiation Decontamination tool (Rad Decon), developed by S&T and the EPA, into the system. Its developers refer to it as a “discussion support” tool meant to provide executive decision makers and subject matter experts a common information source to draw from in disaster preparation.