Imagine if a hurricane blew through the area resulting in the pile-up of multiple vehicles affected by flooding, strong winds, or even a bridge collapse. What if one of the vehicles was a delivery van transporting radioactive-materials?
This was the scene from a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue exercise on May 13, in which Division of Radiation Safety (DRS) was an active participant. Through an agreement with the State of Maryland and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, DRS was able to contribute a strong radioactive source of Cs-137 to use in the drill – making for a realistic scene for the first responders. Approximately 40 task force volunteers organized by the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service gathered on the grounds of the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy (Gaithersburg, MD) for the evening event. All were outfitted with a standard issue pocked-sized radiation detector.
The exercise consisted of drilling the participants to enable their practice in: a) identifying the presence of a radiological hazmat; b) securing the scene to mitigate the radiation exposure; c) rescue of the delivery van's driver; and d) managing the concerns and actions of any public bystanders. To that end, a DRS staff member played the role of a concerned member of the public alarmed at the presence of radioactive material, as indicated by the vehicle placards. Despite the seriousness of the exercise, DRS quite enjoyed the activities and appreciated the chance to help coach first responders on how to interpret their radiation detector readings.
As the misuse of radioactive material becomes more of a threat to civilian safety and security, radiological response training is more important for first responders. Radiological response is not an expertise easily developed through conventional training vendors. DRS received an outpouring of thanks from the drill participants and its organizers, all of whom were grateful for the opportunity to practice a realistic radiological emergency response. DRS is proud to have contributed to a such a meaningful endeavor and demonstrate the collaborative spirit of NIH working with its federal, state and local partners.