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EPA Participates in Simulated Response to Detonation of “Dirty Bomb”

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  • Decontamination - Just outside the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center staging area monitoring samples would be brought in for collection and personnel would need to go through decontamination procedures as a standard precaution. The area under the blue tents is where samples are logged and chain of custody is documented. EMPIRE 09 EXERCISE
  • FRMAC in Action - The Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center staging area was deployed inside a hockey rink at the Albany County Hockey Facility. Verified radiation measurements are critical. Just outside were mobile laboratories with specialized radiological sampling equipment that can go wherever the radiological emergency is occurring. EMPIRE 09 EXERCISE
  • Get the Data. A monitoring device known as a RadNet Deployable is set up outside the perimeter of the known contaminated area to detect movement of the radiological plume and ensure public safety. This specialized equipment supplements the existing fixed EPA radiological monitoring stations located throughout the country. EMPIRE 09 EXERCISE
  • Sound Science – During field operations, EPA can deploy air sampling equipment (background) and monitoring equipment (lower foreground) to test for radiological contamination.  Here we see air sampling equipment and an alpha particle counter. EMPIRE 09 EXERCISE
  • Got Milk? Simulated agricultural sampling, a key to public safety, to ensure that the food supply remains suitable for human consumption. EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment. EMPIRE 09 EXERCISE
  • Yes, EPA has an airplane. EPA has an impressive array of assets to respond to radiological incidents. Among them is its flying laboratory shown here, the Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) airplane. While airborne, the airplane can obtain detailed chemical information and is ready to go 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for emergency response. EMPIRE 09 EXERCISE
  • Follow the plume - Within the Incident Command Structure, the Incident Command Post is the nerve center where all critical information must flow and where the major decisions and management of the incident are determined from hour to hour. Seen here at the ICP, the Situation Unit Leader discusses the “hot zone” and evacuation concerns. EMPIRE 09 EXERCISE
  • Is it safe? Public information and messaging is critical during an emergency. The exercise included simulated and ‘real world’ press conferences and media interactions. In this frame a Department of Energy spokesperson answers questions during a tour of the FRMAC. EMPIRE 09 EXERCISE

Like many other federal agencies, EPA responds to disasters and emergencies, most often to contain the release of and clean up potentially harmful or toxic substances. And while it’s impossible to fully plan or prepare for a disaster or emergency—each one is unique—EPA and other agencies practice how they would react during this type of situation. This summer, EPA personnel set out to Albany, N.Y. to help plan for a potential dirty bomb explosion as part of a U.S. Department of Energy- and New York State-sponsored exercise. For over three days, more than 500 first responders participated in a comprehensive exercise to evaluate the technical response and multi-agency management of a radiological dispersal device explosion in a city.

EPA’s aim in the multi-agency exercise, one of the largest drills of its kind ever conducted, was fairly simple: observe and evaluate how we would respond and how well our partners would work together to protect the population and recover from the emergency.

During such an event, EPA would be the lead federal agency in charge of cleaning up the contamination and providing its expertise and resources to the local decision-making authorities. EPA emergency responders, scientists, engineers, analysts and others would all be called into action in a response that would take careful coordination between local, state and federal partners from every segment of the public and private sectors. EPA and its partners would draw upon its specialized tools, equipment, and technologies to speed radiological decontamination and cleanup.

Playing without the Fun and Games

After more than a year of preparation, exercise planners, participants and observers focused on learning how to determine the chemical makeup of the bomb, measure its health impacts and assess the extent of the release on the affected population and environment. Participants were required to begin and end all communications with the phrase, “This is an exercise,” to avoid any chance that a member of the public might mistakenly think the simulation was real. The public and media were alerted beforehand to the presence of helicopters, emergency personnel and other exercise resources.

During the first week of June, responders fanned out across New York State’s emergency operations center on the Harriman State office campus and multiple monitoring sites around the staged blast zone to take environmental samples and monitor the area. During such an event, the focal point for data collection and analysis would be a radiological monitoring and assessment center staging area. This critical information hub was set up inside a hockey rink (minus the ice).

The guiding principles to such a response are outlined in something called the National Response Framework, which is a kind of playbook for emergencies. The framework describes how everyone from communities to tribes, from states to the federal government work together to coordinate a national response. Most importantly, it details specific authorities and best practices for managing emergencies. One of the most important tools in a coordinated response is working within an Incident Command Structure (ICS), a standardized, emergency management system designed to handle any emergency or event – everything from a forest fire to a large wedding. Regardless of the situation, ICS aims to get everyone on the same page and working together quickly and effectively.

So how did we all do? A complete and detailed interagency review will be published soon. Overall, invaluable lessons were learned, better inter-agency relationships were forged, policies and practices will be improved significantly thanks to the drill. Most importantly, “This was only an exercise.”


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