EPA Region 3
Topic: Liberty RadEX
Date: May 21 , 2010
(Sounds of sirens in the background)
Host Joan Schafer: Disaster can strike when it's least expected. The Times Square bombing attempt and the Gulf Coast oil spill prove again how important it is to be prepared. In that spirit, EPA recently staged a full-scale "dirty bomb" exercise in Philadelphia, so emergency responders at every level could work out the kinks in dealing with a radiological dispersal device, called an RDD for short.
Hi, I'm Joan Schafer of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's mid-Atlantic region. Welcome to Environment Matters, our series of podcasts.
Here to tell us about this exercise – called Liberty RadEX – is Dennis Carney, the acting deputy director of EPA's Hazardous Site Cleanup Division.
Dennis Carney: Thank you, Joan. Liberty RadEX was a massive effort lasting all week and involving more than 900 responders from all levels of local, state and federal governments. It was co-sponsored by EPA, the City of Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection after more than a year of planning.
Joan: What was the Liberty RadEX scenario, Dennis?
Dennis: Liberty RadEX was staged at nine locations across Philadelphia. The simulation involved a suicide bomber exploding 3000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel – just like Oklahoma City – and mixed with a small amount of a deadly radioactive material called cesium 137.
The exercise assumed that the explosion would kill or injure hundreds of people in Center Philadelphia, and break windows up to three blocks away. More than 100,000 people would be evacuated from the contamination zone. Shelter in place would be ordered outside the perimeter. A radioactive plume would deposit radiation 50 miles northeast into residential areas of Bucks County and New Jersey, and into rivers and neighborhoods.
Joan: Dennis, wouldn't that cause a massive disruption of life in the region?
Dennis: Without a doubt. Roads, mass transit, schools, businesses and hospitals would be affected. Cesium 137 is a salt that easily dissolves in water, so, after a rainfall, radioactive runoff could seep into reservoirs, soil and even the pores of stones. This would create a real cleanup challenge.
Joan: So what is EPA's role in all of this?
Dennis: In the post-emergency phase – after about 60 days – EPA would assume the lead for the cleanup. EPA would work with lots of partners, including the Department of Energy, FEMA and state and local responders.
The Liberty RadEX exercise scenario started approximately 60 days after the explosion, and had EPA and its partners working in what we call a unified command. Their task was to assess the extent of radioactive contamination and figure out how to stabilize and remove contaminated materials.
Joan: What would residents do while this work is proceeding?
Dennis: That's the really disruptive part. An incident such as this one would likely require the temporary relocation of thousands of residents and businesses. The City of Philadelphia has evacuation and shelter plans that would be implemented. And the Red Cross would provide mass care. EPA would oversee thousands of personnel conducting an intensive block-by-block assessment of contamination.
Joan: Would you say the Liberty RadEX exercise was successful?
Dennis: Absolutely. It's always worthwhile to practice responding
with different partners. We get to know each other, and learn what each group brings to the table. We get to test cleanup procedures to make sure they work, and to unravel communications snags.
Exercises are valuable rehearsals, and have proved their worth time after time when a real disaster occurs. The whole point of an emergency drill like Liberty RadEX is to learn. And we will spend many months absorbing the lessons we learned and then sharing them with responders across the country. This will make us better prepared to respond if we ever have to deal with a real dirty bomb.
Joan Schafer: Thanks, Dennis, and congratulations on coordinating such a successful city-wide exercise.
Thanks for joining us on Environment Matters.