Radiation preparedness is no longer just a concern for jurisdictions neighboring nuclear facilities with the risk for a radiological emergency from a radiation dispersal device (RDD) or an improvised nuclear device on the rise.
Communities need to prepare for such an event, but also take into consideration that in the event of a large-scale radiation event, nearby communities may be called upon to shelter displaced individuals. This similarly happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where over one million people were displaced and had to seek refuge in outside, unaffected communities, and sometimes in new states. Imagine a similar scenario, but in this case evacuees potentially may be contaminated with radiation.
To aid jurisdictions in preparedness and response planning for this situation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released A Guide to Operating Public Shelters in a Radiation Emergency. Intended for shelter operators, planners, and staff, the guidance document provides information in a simple and easily digestible way. The document covers topics such as establishing a shelter, screening and decontamination, surveillance, and risk communications, while breaking down key capabilities into basic, intermediate, and advanced levels for shelter operations. Understanding that not all situations are alike, algorithms and incident specific guidance for scenarios where resources are lacking or community reception centers are not available, are incorporated into each chapter. Also housed in the document are helpful tools such as job aids, example shelter floor plans, and a community reception center registration form.
To increase awareness of the radiation sheltering guidance document, radiation preparedness, and related resources, CDC and NACCHO’s exercise team facilitated two exercises in February 2016, the first in Callaway County, Missouri and the second in Monroe County, New York. The table top exercises both featured a scenario in which an RDD is set off at a well-attended event in a nearby metro area causing people at the detonation site to seek refuge at radiation shelters in surrounding jurisdictions. While these sites are well-versed in their existing radiation response plans, the addition of a sheltering component for a large amount of displaced individuals was a situation that had not yet been previously explored.
Feedback and results from these table top exercises are being used to identify jurisdictional resource gaps and needs to ultimately inform a nationally available radiation sheltering preparedness and response toolkit. This toolkit will not only house general radiation resources, but also be home to a templated radiation documents that provide instruction for tabletop execution and provide room for customization of the scenario. The tabletop exercises also were an opportunity for the jurisdictions to identify gaps in their own plans and prioritize considerations for future radiation activities, as well as create contingency plans for related scenarios.
To learn more about radiation preparedness, take part in a simulated Community Reception Center at the “Lessons Learned from Local Radiation Shelter Exercises and Resources to Help Advance Radiation Preparedness Within Local Jurisdictions” session on Wednesday, April 20 at the 2016 Preparedness Summit.
For more information on NACCHO’s radiation program and radiation preparedness, see the following resources: