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Responding to Radiation Emergencies

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This page provides an overiview of radiological emergency response.

On this page:


Overview

We use radioactive materials for medical diagnoses and treatments, defense activities, electric power generation, and industrial processes. There are some risks, however, when using radioactive materials for these activities. Careful planning and design help minimize these risks, but even the best preparation is not enough to prevent accidents completely. In addition to preparing for accidents, we must also be prepared to respond to an act of terrorism involving radioactive material.

When an emergency happens, such as the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, qualified individuals need to respond quickly to minimize the consequences of the incident. In these situations, the public should listen to the emergency responders to avoid unnecessary radiation exposure. Their primary concern is the health and safety of the public.

Remember
Listen to the advice of local officials and emergency responders. Their primary concern is your health and safety.

From the location to the type of radiation, every emergency response is going to be different. Apart from individuals in the immediate vicinity of the emergency, the most significant concern will be inhalation of radioactive material carried by winds. Emergency response teams use their expertise and state-of-the-art technology to assess each situation accurately and act quickly to limit potential hazards.

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Who is protecting you

A large number of organizations could be involved in responding to a nuclear or radiological emergency. On the Federal level, the role of each of the agencies and organizations is defined in the National Response Plan’s Nuclear/Radiological Incident Annex. Some of the more prominent agencies with responsibilities under the Nuc/Rad Annex are:

U.S. Department of Homeland Security(DHS)

In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security has primary responsibility for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared. DHS coordinates the comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounts a swift recovery effort. Additionally, DHS educates citizens to prepare themselves, their families and their homes for major emergencies.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA)

In coordination with DHS, EPA plans for and responds to radiological emergencies. EPA works with other federal agencies and state responders to contain, monitor, and control radiological conditions. As part of this effort, EPA developed Protective Action Guides (PAGs) to help state and local authorities make the best radiation protection decisions during emergencies.

U.S. Department of Energy(DOE)

The Office of Emergency Operations administers the DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) response to emergencies at DOE and NNSA facilities and field sites. DOE also provides technical experts who help evaluate the threat posed by a nuclear or radiological emergency within the United States and abroad.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC)

NRC is responsible for ensuring that each nuclear power plant in the United States has a plan for responding to emergencies at the plant.

State and Local Responders

The PAGs developed by EPA place the primary responsibility for initial emergency protective actions upon the state and local governments. When an emergency occurs, first responders use these PAGs to choose a response action (e.g., evacuating a town that may be affected by the radiation).

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What you can do to protect yourself

Be Informed

Inform yourself of protective actions before a radiation emergency ever occurs. If an incident occurs, listen to the advice of your local government officials and emergency responders. Then take the recommended actions. Their primary concern is for your health and safety.

Three basic ways to protect yourself against unnecessary exposure are:

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Resources

Ready.gov
May 10, 2012. Federal Emergency Management Agency
On this website, you can learn how to prepare for radiological and other emergencies.
Protective Action Guides
May 8, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
On this page you can learn about EPA’s Protective Action Guides (PAGs), which help state and local authorities make radiation protection decisions during emergencies.
Emergency Preparedness and Response
May 8, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This site provides links to the EPA’s radiological emergency response information.
Setting Radiation Protection Standards
May 8, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
On this page, you can read about the steps that EPA follows as it sets radiation standards.
Terrorist Hazards
May 8, 2012. Federal Emergency Management Agency
This page provides information on radiation hazards such as radiological dispersal devices (or “dirty bombs”).
Nuclear Power Plants
May 8, 2012. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Technological and Accidental Hazards
Here, you can learn about ways to prepare yourself and your family for a nuclear power plant emergency.
Directory of Agreement State and Non-Agreement State Directors and State Liaison Officers
May 8, 2012. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
On this Web page, you can find out whether your state is an Agreement State.
Emergency Preparedness and Response: Radiation Emergencies
May 8, 2012. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This site provides information to help people protect themselves during and after a radiation event. .
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Dirty Bombs
May 8, 2012. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
On this Web page, you can find answers to many questions about dirty bombs.
Backgrounder on the Three Mile Island Accident
May 8, 2012. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
This page provides information about the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant incident in 1979 in Middletown, Pennsylvania.
Japanese Nuclear Emergency: EPA's Radiation Monitoring
May8,2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
On this website, you can read about the impact of the Japanese nuclear power plant accident on the United States.

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