Protecting Yourself from Radiation
Radiation is part of our life. Background radiationRadiation that is always in the environment. The majority of background radiation occurs naturally and a small fraction comes from man-made elements., coming primarily from natural minerals, is around us all the time. Fortunately, there are very few situations where an average person is exposed to uncontrolled sources of radiation above background. Nevertheless, it is wise to be prepared and know what to do if such a situation arises.
One of the best ways to be prepared is to understand the radiation protection principles of time, distance and shielding. During a radiological emergency (a large release of radioactive material into the environment), we can use these principles to help protect ourselves and our families.
On this page:
Time, Distance and Shielding
Time, distance, and shielding actions minimize your exposure to radiation in much the same way as they would to protect you against overexposure to the sun:
- Time: For people who are exposed to radiationEnergy given off as either particles or rays. in addition to natural background radiation, limiting or minimizing the exposure time reduces the dose from the radiation source.
- Distance: Just as the heat from a fire reduces as you move further away, the dose of radiation decreases dramatically as you increase your distance from the source.
- Shielding: Barriers of lead, concrete, or water provide protection from penetrating gamma raysA form of ionizing radiation that is made up of weightless packets of energy called photons. Gamma rays can pass completely through the human body; as they pass through, they can cause damage to tissue and DNA. and x-raysA form of ionizing radiation made up of photons. X-rays are capable of passing completely through the human body. Medical x-rays are the single largest source of man-made radiation exposure.. This is why certain radioactive materials are stored under water or in concrete or lead-lined rooms, and why dentists place a lead blanket on patients receiving x-rays of their teeth. Therefore, inserting the proper shield between you and a radiation source will greatly reduce or eliminate the dose you receive.
In a large scale radiological release, such as a nuclear power plant accident or terrorist incident, the following advice has been tested and proven to provide maximum protection.
If a radiation emergency occurs, you can take actions to protect yourself, your loved ones and your pets: Get Inside, Stay Inside and Stay Tuned. Follow the advice of emergency responders and officials.
In a radiation emergency you may be asked to get inside a building and take shelter for a period of time.
- This action is called "sheltering in placeAn emergency response instruction meaning get inside a building right away. If you can get to a brick or concrete multi-story building or basement within a few minutes, go there.."
- Get to the middle of the building or a basement, away from doors and windows.
- Bring pets inside.
Staying inside will reduce your exposure to radiation.
- Close windows and doors.
- Take a shower or wipe exposed parts of your body with a damp cloth.
- Drink bottled water and eat food in sealed containers.
Emergency officials are trained to respond to disaster situations and will provide specific actions to help keep people safe.
- Get the latest information from radio, television, the Internet, mobile devices, etc.
- Emergency officials will provide information on where to go to get screened for contamination.
Where to go in a Radiation Emergency
View the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's video, “Where to Go in a Radiation Emergency” below, or visit the CDC Radiation Emergencies website for additional information.
Learn more about protecting yourself from radiation:
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emergency Preparedness and Response: Radiation Emergencies
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Ready.gov
If you identify or come in contact with a radioactive source, locate and contact your state radiation control office.