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Radiation Emergencies
Emergency Response:

How We Respond

Emergency Preparedness
and Response

What EPA does during a radiological emergency response depends on the type of emergency that occurs. In some cases, EPA coordinates the activities of all federal agencies involved in the response. In other cases, EPA provides technical support and guidance to another agency. EPA's role is described in a number of emergency response plans and is determined by its authorities under various environmental laws and other legal documents, as well as its capabilities and expertise.

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When does EPA coordinate the response?

EPA coordinates the federal response to many incidents that involve radiological materials not regulated or owned by another federal agency. The materials involved include lost radiation sources, sources of unknown origin, and naturally occurring materials such as radium. In addition, EPA coordinates the U.S. response to foreign radiological accidents or events that have the potential to affect the United States or its territories (for example, the incidents in Chernobyl and Tokaimura, Japan).

When and how does EPA support other organizations?

For radiological emergencies involving materials regulated or owned by another federal agency, EPA actively supports the Department of Homeland Security, the Coordinating Federal Agency, and the affected state and local governments:

In addition, EPA provides guidance to first responders on protecting people, resources, and the environment from radiation exposure through its Protective Action Guides.

Whether in a coordinating or support role, EPA has the option of sending its Radiological Emergency Response Team (RERT) to the incident scene. The RERT is a team of multidisciplinary, specially trained staff from EPA, primarily from the Agency's national radiation laboratories. The team provides critical scientific and technical support to state and local governments and to other federal agencies. The Experience page provides examples of RERT's activities during responses to radiological incidents.

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When does the Department of Homeland Security coordinate the federal response?

HSPD-5, Management of Domestic Incidents, requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to coordinate the response to domestic "Incidents of National Significance." The National Response Plan bases the definition of Incidents of National Significance on situations that meet any one of four criteria established in HSPD-5:

  1. A federal agency has requested assistance under the National Response Plan.
  2. State and local authorities have requested federal assistance when their resources have been overwhelmed by a major disaster, emergency, or catastrophic incident.
  3. Multiple federal agencies have become substantially involved in responding to an incident, such as a terrorist threat or attack.
  4. The President uses the authority of the Stafford Act to declare a disaster or an emergency.

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