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Radiation Emergencies
Emergency Response:

Response Exercises

Emergency Preparedness
and Response

Exercises test and validate plans and procedures, test the readiness of response capabilities, and increase the confidence and skill of personnel. In addition, exercises allow emergency response staff to identify weaknesses so they can improve performance during an actual response. Interagency exercises also allow the various agencies' personnel to become familiar with each other and learn to coordinate and operate together.

EPA's Radiological Emergency Response Team (RERT) has participated in many exercises simulating radiological emergencies involving nuclear power plants, Department of Energy weapons and waste storage facilities, and military sites.

Types of Exercises

The RERT participates in exercises that range from informal "walk through" to highly complex, realistic simulations of actual emergencies. Exercises fall into three main categories

On this page:

Table Top Exercises (TTX)

EPA responders participate in a table-top exercise associated with the radiological emergency response exercise, Ruby Slippers.

During a tabletop exercise or TTX, participants test an emergency response plan and its standard operating procedures by informally "walking through" a hypothetical emergency. The TTX allows policy-making officials and key staff with emergency management responsibilities to identify and resolve problems with the emergency plan.

Command Post Exercise (CPX)

A CPX is more extensive than a tabletop exercise in that it usually involves activities in other than a conference room atmosphere. It usually focuses on a single response or activity, for example, command and control. It can also involve limited deployment of equipment for a specific purpose.

Full Field Exercises (FFX)

RERT members participate in the field exercise component of Ruby Slippers.

An FFX is more extensive and realistic than either a tabletop or command post exercise. Activities extend beyond a conference room or operations center, taking place in a field environment over several days. An FFX tests many functions of an emergency plan in realistic situations.

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Example Exercises

The table and text below provide examples of the exercises in which EPA's Radiological Emergency Response Team has participated. They are field exercises unless otherwise indicated.

Overview of Table top Exercises (TTX)

Exercise Scenario Participants
INEX-2/CANATEX 3- Table Top (1999) Accident occurs at a Canadian nuclear power plant. IAEA, Canada, numerous European countries, 11 U.S. agencies
Lost Source-Table Top (1997) An unshielded 100-curie iridium-192 source is found in a trash truck at a landfill. EPA, NRC, FEMA, state, local government and other federal agencies
OLYMPIC SPARKLER (1996) Radiation dispersal device (RDD) explodes. EPA
RADEX-94-Table Top (1994) Emergency personnel respond to a radiological emergency in the Arctic. State of Alaska, AEPS and Northern Forum emergency response groups, EPA, DOS
Diaz Tabletop-Table Top (1993) An earthquake cracks an underground storage tank causing an explosion and hydrogen release. DOE Hanford
INEX-1 Table Top (1993) Personnel respond to a foreign radiological incident. Canada, State of NY, DOE, USDA, HHS, NRC,DOS, EPA, and other federal agencies

Overview of Command Post Exercises

Exercise Scenario Participants
MIRRORED IMAGE 96 (CPX) (1996) Threat of a radiation dispersal incident follows the disappearance of a container of spent nuclear fuel. DOD, FEMA, DOE, EPA, other federal, state, and local responders

Overview of Full Field Exercises

Exercise Scenario Participants
Dingo King (FFX) (2005) A nuclear weapons accident at King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base. DOD, EPA, DOE
Ruby Slippers (FFX) (2004) A foreign satellite carrying a radioactive payload falls out of orbit and enters the earth’s atmosphere. The satellite disintegrates and spreads radioactive debris over portions of Kansas and Oklahoma. EPA
Operation Synergy (FFX) (2004) Los Alamitos, CA  
Operation River City (FFX) (2003) A dirty bomb detonation at an abandoned facility in an urban setting causes numerous injuries and a radioactive plume. EPA, FBI, HHS, DOE, DOJ, DHS, DOL, DOD, ATF, state and local agencies
TOP-OFF 2 (FFX) (2003) A radiation dispersal device exploded by terrorists in downtown Seattle, WA and a bioterrorism scenario in Chicago, IL. DHS, FBI, EPA, DOE, HHS, state and local agencies, and the Canadian government.
Wasatch Rings II(FFX) (2001) Various incidents, including an explosion involving radiological material, at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. FBI, FEMA, EPA, NRC, other federal agencies, State of Utah, numerous local responders
TOPOFF/National Capitol Region (NCR) Exercise (FFX) (2000) Simultaneous chemical, biological, and radiological attacks in Regions 1 (Northeastern states), Region 3 (Mid-Atlantic states), and Region 8 (Mountains and Plains states). National Security Council, FEMA, FBI, EPA, other federal, state, and local responders
Western Roundup (FFX) (1998) A Fire occurs at former radium dial production facility. federal state and local responders
Digit Pace II (FFX) (1997) A propane truck collides with a truck carrying nuclear weapons, causing explosions/ release of radiation. DOD, EPA, FEMA, state, local government and other federal agencies
Digit Pace I (FFX) (1996) A train collides with a Safe Secure Trailer causing fire/release of radiation. DOE, federal, state, and local responders
Display Select (FFX) (1995) Accident with a nuclear weapon being loaded on submarine causes plutonium release. DNA, federal, state, and local military and civilian governments
Fremont(FFX) (1993) A propane tank explodes causing release of radiation at adjacent facility. Westinghouse Hanford Co., States of Oregon and Washington, EPA, DOE, NRC, USDA
FRMAC-93 (FFX) (1993) A general emergency occurs at a commercial nuclear power plant. State of Nebraska, Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant, other agencies?

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Dingo King

In August 2005, the Department of Defense, along with the Department of Energy and the EPA, simulated a scenario where a private plane crashed into a Navy dock at King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia. In the exercise scenario, the crash occurred just as two Tomahawk missiles were being loaded onto a sub. The resultant explosion destroyed one missile and dropped a second into 15 feet of water where it lay buried invisibly in mud. Participants had to address questions of whether the water, air or land was contaminated by the incident, where the missile was located, and how to raise it safely.

Ruby Slippers

In July 2004, EPA conducted an internal, no-fault exercise of a scenario where a foreign satellite containing a radioisotope thermal generator breaks up on re-entry and crashes in the United States. Radioactive material from this satellite contaminates parts of Kansas and Oklahoma (EPA Regions 6 & 7) and DHS delegates EPA to lead the U.S. radiological response per the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan (FRERP). This exercise was designed to test EPA’s readiness and to practice EPA’s role in responding to a radiological emergency that was named an Incident of National Significance.

Operation River City

In July 2003, EPA Region 4 hosted a WMD exercise set in Louisville, Kentucky. This exercise was designed to evaluate the initial response to the incident and the management of the consequences associated with a terrorism incident involving WMD. The exercise focused on key emergency responder coordination and critical decision-making processes for integrating local, state and federal assets necessary to protect public health following a terrorism incident. (The exercise is the incident.) It also provided participants with an opportunity to evaluate current response concepts, plans and capabilities.


In May 2003, the Department of Homeland Security hosted the large, multi-agency and international exercise TOP-OFF 2 (Top Officials). This full-scale exercise measured and analyzed a response to a terrorist attack simulating a radiological device explosion in Seattle and a covert biological attack in Chicago. All in all, 25 federal agencies, as well as the American Red Cross, were involved in the five-day exercise, as well as partner agencies in the Canadian Government. This exercise allowed federal, state and local responders to test their response and communication practices, and examined how federal responders would cope with simultaneous WMD attacks in major American cities.

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Wasatch Rings II

In April 2001, the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command and the FBI co-sponsored a Field Training Exercise in Salt Lake City, Utah. The exercise scenario involved numerous incidents occurring in Utah during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, including an explosion involving radiological material and mass casualties. The exercise provided an opportunity for public safety organizations supporting the Games at the local, state, and federal levels to test their procedures for Olympic operations and crisis and consequence management.

TOPOFF/National Capitol Region (NCR) Exercise
Held in May 2000, TOPOFF (Top Officials) was a large-scale national exercise mandated by Senate Report 105-235. The exercise was co-chaired by the Attorney General and the Director of FEMA and coordinated with the National Security Council. Following requirements of the Senate Report, the exercise involved top federal, state, and local government officials in responding to terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

TOPOFF involved simultaneous chemical and biological incidents in Denver, Colorado, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A concurrent exercise, National Capitol Region 2000, involved a radiological release in the Washington, D.C. area. The exercise was the largest federal, state, and local counter-terrorism response exercise ever undertaken.


On April 27-28, 1999, the U.S. participated as a border country in the Canadian regional INEX-2/CANATEX 3 exercise. Canada, the U.S., IAEA, and numerous European nations participated in the exercise. A total of 11 U.S. agencies were involved, including EPA, the Department of State, the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and FEMA. The overall purpose of the Canadian regional INEX-2 exercise was to allow participating countries to assess their emergency preparedness by responding to a simulated nuclear power plant accident. Each country acted on the scenario information it received, thereby testing pre-existing emergency plans, communication equipment and procedures, and personnel.

Western Roundup Exercise

In September 1998, federal, state, and local emergency responders held a radiological exercise near Austin, Texas. In the exercise scenario, a fire occurred in an abandoned industrial warehouse that produced instrument gauges during World War II using luminous paint containing radium. The exercise was designed to improve coordination and exchange knowledge between federal, state, and local agencies.

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Digit Pace II

In 1997, the Department of Energy and the Defense Special Weapons Agency cosponsored a full-field weapons exercise at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM. Participants included the Department of Defense, EPA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, other federal agencies, and state and local governments.

The exercise simulated a collision between a propane truck and a truck carrying nuclear weapons. The resulting explosions released radioactive material into the environment and surrounding community.

The exercise was the first test of DOE's role as a Lead Federal Agency under the "Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan." (This plan has been replaced National Response Framework.)

Lost Source

In 1997, several federal agencies sponsored a two-part, lost source exercise. It included a tabletop exercise in September and a field exercise in October.

In the exercise scenario, a trash truck arrived at a landfill facility carrying a load containing radioactive material -- an unshielded, 100 curie iridium-192 source.

The exercise tested the federal government's capability to mount a multi-agency response to a radioactive material release on a regional scale.

Digit Pace I

In 1996, The Department of Energy sponsored the exercise Digit Pace I at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, NM. It involved federal, state, and local responders.

In the exercise scenario, a train collided with a Safe Secure Trailer carrying nuclear weapons, causing a fire and the release of radioactive materials. (A Safe Secure Trailer is specially designed for transporting nuclear materials. As its name implies, it is built for security and to withstand severe impacts.)

The exercise tested the effectiveness and coordination of the participants. It focused on the ability of the Department of Energy to lead other federal agencies, provide strategic policy guidance and federal oversight, and to coordinate with state and local governments during an emergency.

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Olympic Sparkler

Held in April 1996, Exercise Olympic Sparkler was an EPA Headquarters exercise focusing on the role of EPA's National Incident Coordination Team in response to a simulated explosion of a radiation dispersal device in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. The exercise was designed to test EPA's plans and procedures for responding to a terrorist threat or incidents involving radiation dispersal among a civilian population.

Mirrored Image 96

Exercise Mirrored Image 96 was held in March 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia, in preparation for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. The exercise scenario involved the theft of a container from a shipment of spent nuclear fuel and an attempt to extort money from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, threatening to disrupt the Games if demands were not met. FEMA, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency activated response teams for the exercise. Additional support was provided by DOE, the Department of Defense, EPA, and FEMA to assess the situation, protect the public, and bring about the recovery of the nuclear material. This Command Post Exercise included over 300 personnel representing 47 organizations.

Display Select

In 1995, the Defense Nuclear Agency sponsored a nuclear weapons accident exercise at the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, VA, for federal, state, and local military and civilian responders.

The exercise simulated the accidental explosion of a weapon being loaded onto a submarine. The explosion led to a major release of weapons-grade plutonium that spread throughout the surrounding area.

The exercise tested response procedures among participants and explored the relationship between the "Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan" and the "Federal Response Plan," which have since been replaced by the "National Response Framework."

International Radiological Exercise - 94 (RADEX-94)

In 1994, EPA's International Radiological Exercise in Anchorage, AK involved a number of regional, state, and federal organizations:

EPA was the Lead Federal Agency, responsible for coordinating federal participation and developing the exercise scenario. In the exercise scenario, a fictitious country, Arctic Land, experienced a release of radioactive material from a nuclear power plant.

The exercise addressed international concern about the capability of member nations to respond to a radiological emergency affecting the Arctic.


In September 1993, about 150 emergency personnel took part in the Fremont exercise in Richland, Washington. The exercise involved people from the States of Washington and Oregon and from Westinghouse Hanford Company, the company that operated the Hanford Reservation facilities for the Department of Energy at that time. Participating agencies included EPA, the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Agriculture.

In the initial scenario, a propane tank, located adjacent to the fictitious 299 EX Facility, exploded, releasing radioactive material. The release prompted a declaration of general emergency. Responders had to shelter the general population living in the down-wind path of the simulated plume.

This exercise tested the full breadth of response functions under the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan.

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Diaz Tabletop Exercise

In June 1993, the Department of Energy Hanford Office held the Diaz Tabletop exercise in Richland, Washington.

In the exercise scenario, an underground tank cracked during an earthquake, releasing hydrogen. As the earthquake caused instruments to short out, sparks ignited the hydrogen. The resulting explosion and fire propelled radioactive material beyond the site boundary and burned 5,000kg of the waste.

The exercise tested the technical component of the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan for response to a general emergency at a Department of Energy facility. (The FRERP has been replaced by the National Response Framework.)

Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center FRMAC-93

In 1993, the States of Nebraska and Iowa and participating federal agencies conducted an exercise in Omaha, NE. With the cooperation of the Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Power Station the exercise scenario simulated a general emergency at a nuclear power plant.

During emergencies at a Department of Energy facility or commercial nuclear power plant, DOE sets up and operates the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center. It is an ad hoc center for collecting and analyzing monitoring data during an emergency. Following the emergency, DOE turns the Center over to EPA for long-term management.

The exercise tested this technical component of the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan which has since been replaced by the National Response Framework.

International Emergency Exercise (INEX-I) Tabletop Exercise

The May 1993 exercise, INEX-1, included representatives from Canada; the State of New York; the Departments of State, Energy, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and other federal agencies.

In the exercise scenario, involving two fictitious countries, a reactor accident in Acciland threatened the neighboring country of Neighborland.

INEX-1 tested the ability of Canada and the U.S. to respond jointly to an emergency involving both countries. The exercise resulted in recommendations that workgroups cross-train in both Canadian and U.S. procedures and in provincial and state procedures. Recommendations also included refining Lead Federal Agency communication procedures between Canada and EPA.

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