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Year : 2011  |  Volume : 34  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 47-49  

Requirement of trained first responders and national level preparedness for prevention and response to radiological terrorism

Radiation Safety Systems Division, BARC, Mumbai, India

Date of Web Publication17-Mar-2012

Correspondence Address:
R Sharma
Radiation Safety Systems Division, BARC, Mumbai
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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The increase in the usage of radioactive sources in various fields and the present scenario of adopting various means of terrorism indicates a possible environment for malicious usage of radioactive sources. Many nations, India inclusive, have to strengthen further it's capability to deal with Nuclear/Radiological Emergencies. The probable radiological Emergency scenario in public domain involves inadvertent melting of radioactive material, transport accident involving radioactive material/sources and presence of orphan sources as reported elsewhere. Explosion of Radiological Dispersal Device (RDDs) or Improvised Nuclear Devices (IND) leading to spread of radioactive contamination in public places have been identified by IAEA as probable radiological threats. The IAEA documents put lot of emphasis, at national level, on training and educational issues related with Radiological Emergencies. The agencies and institutions dealing with radioactive sources have few personnel trained in radiation protection. Experience so far indicates that public awareness is also not adequate in the field of radiological safety which may create difficulties during emergency response in public domain. The major challenges are associated with mitigation, monitoring methodology, contaminated and overexposed casualties, decontamination and media briefing. In this paper, we have identified the educational needs for response to radiological emergency in India with major thrust on training. The paper has also enumerated the available educational and training infrastructure, the human resources, as well as the important stakeholders for development of sustainable education and training programme.

Keywords: Radiological terrorism, radiological emergency, RDD, first responder

How to cite this article:
Sharma R, Pradeepkumar K S. Requirement of trained first responders and national level preparedness for prevention and response to radiological terrorism. Radiat Prot Environ 2011;34:47-9

How to cite this URL:
Sharma R, Pradeepkumar K S. Requirement of trained first responders and national level preparedness for prevention and response to radiological terrorism. Radiat Prot Environ [serial online] 2011 [cited 2020 Mar 31];34:47-9. Available from: http://www.rpe.org.in/text.asp?2011/34/1/47/93950

  1 Introduction Top

The increasing threat of terrorism in the recent years and the possibility of terrorist attacks involving radiological or nuclear materials have not been realized by many countries. As India is subjected to continuous threat from various terrorist groups, it can be vulnerable to such threats. The rapid growth of nuclear industry and increasing use of radioactive materials makes the conditions more favorable for such an act unless security and intelligence is strengthened to higher level. The field of application of radiation includes diagnostic radiology, radiotherapy, industrial radiography, nuclear medicine, nuclear gauging, gamma irradiation, research and education etc. The industries which use radioactive sources may have trained manpower but the probability of same to be used for malevolent acts can not be ruled out. The security issues with which the world is confronted shows that uses of radioactive sources should be subject to reinforcements of safety, control and security. The IAEA has plan for it's member States regarding education and training programmes in the field of radiation protection and Nuclear/Radiological Emergencies.

It is now clear that National governments have to deal with the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism in isolation. Immediate response, advice and assistance available may be required for handling nuclear/radiological emergency. The limited knowledge and understanding about radiation to a common man may create more panic and confusion during emergency scenario. The serious impact on health, psychology, environment, economy and society as a result of nuclear/radiological emergency cannot be neglected. The earlier experience related with nuclear/radiological accidents shows that decontamination and disposal of radioactive waste generated due to dispersal of radioactivity in the environment may involve huge financial burden to the government. The practical knowledge and expertise in this field is available with Department of Atomic Energy, due to vast experience in handling radioactivity associated with nuclear fuel cycle. In this paper, we explore the need for education and training for various agencies and their roles in order to have quick and meaningful response during any radiological emergency.

  2 Nuclear/Radiological Threat Scenario Top

Internationally physical security of radioactive sources in hospitals, industries and educational institutions always has been a matter of concern expressed by IAEA. Even in advanced countries, every year administrative control is lost over many radioactive sources making them Orphan Sources. There is possibility that terrorist may acquire nuclear/radioactive material from outside the country. The sources which can be used for malicious act may be stolen from industries lacking in security measures. These if used as Radiological Exposure Devices (RED) or Radiological Dispersal Devices (RDD) can lead to a serious psychological issue in the society compared to any other health hazard.

Physical protection of nuclear installations against sabotage, theft and diversion prevents terrorist from acquiring nuclear materials. The improved security at Airports /Seaports by installation of radiation monitoring facilities will prevent illicit trafficking of radioactive/nuclear materials that might be used by terrorists. For preventing illicit trafficking of radioactive/nuclear materials, the training of customs and border security is also needed because they will act as First Responders during such incidents.

The use of RDD by a terrorist though may not result in fatalities from radiation injuries, but it can result in serious disruption in the society and also cause damage to economy of the country. Public authorities have to be aware of the psycho-social problems that are related to radiation hazards and conduct themselves accordingly. They have a major role to play in reassuring the people and not add to fear psychosis that may be generated during any radiological Emergency. The main causes for fear psychosis associated with any nuclear/radiological Emergency are: undetectability of radiation by human senses; equating the situations with Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings; Chernobyl effects; sensational coverage by media and undue individual anxiety caused by inadequate information leading to irrational public action.

  3 Necessity of Education and Training for Various Agencies Top

Training is key element of emergency preparedness. The country like India needs to have adequate preparedness for response to any nuclear/radiological challenges, if forced on anywhere in the country. It is therefore required to increase Emergency Response Centers (ERCs), First responders/ Quick Response Teams (QRTs) /Emergency Response Teams (ERTs) by manifolds. This can only be achieved by extensive continuous training programme. The training of First Responders may vary from one to two weeks duration and Training of Trainers (TOT) courses is an exhaustive course for three weeks. The training may improve responder's ability to take appropriate measures to protect themselves and public. It also enhances the confidence of responders and public while managing an emergency that involves radioactive material and radiation. The lack of competence in handling of radiological emergency may result in inadvertent spread of radioactive contamination which may lead to production of large quantity of radioactive waste upon decontamination.

3.1 Armed forces, Paramilitary and civil defence

These Forces have already received training in nuclear warfare which enables them for responding in radiological contaminated environment. Their preparedness involves use of radiation monitoring devices, assessment of radiological status in case of large scale nuclear disasters. The training of these personnel is aimed at providing knowledge and skills related with impact of nuclear explosions and terrorist threats using radioactive material.

3.2 First responders/Quick response teams

The First Responders may be from various government agencies responsible for carrying out radiological monitoring and initial assessment of impact during any nuclear and radiological emergency scenario. The First Responder team may have to control the scenario till the experts arrive at the scene so equipping these teams with radiation monitors will help in the prevention as well as response to radiological terrorism. These individuals with basic knowledge and training can ensure effective protection of individuals as well as themselves during an emergency situation.

3.3 Police, Fire fighters, NDRF, Emergency medical response personnel

It is assumed that these agencies will have to respond immediately during the scenario. In addition to their regular assignment, they should have additional training in handling radiological/nuclear emergency. As these agencies always have additional responsibility of handling casualties at the crime scene who may be contaminated or working in contaminated environment for longer durations, basic level of training is a necessity for them.

3.4 Academic institutions and Public Awareness Programmes

Awareness creation among the public and provision of relevant information to various categories of workers is necessary to reduce phobia from radiation. The Radiation safety personnel employed in industry and hospitals can be very useful for providing training to the members of the public. The training also imparts fundamental knowledge (Dos and Don'ts) about handling of radiological emergencies. The training can be delivered informally through meetings, seminar, public lectures, In-house training etc.

  4 The Stakeholders Top

The stakeholders are individuals and organizations which have direct link with radiological emergency management. The handling of radiological emergency requires basic training in radiological hazard assessment, command and control and coordination with other agencies. The events may involve casualties, with a mix of conventional trauma, radioactive contamination and potential exposure. This requires adequate team of First Responders for quick response and effective management. The experience shows that all stakeholders must work together in order to meet this challenge. The identified stakeholders include the following:

  • National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)
  • State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA)
  • District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA)
  • Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)
  • Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)
  • Emergency Response Centre (ERCs)
  • Police, Fire Service and Municipal corporation
  • National Disaster Response Force(NDRF) and Paramilitary Forces
  • Civil Defence
  • Hospitals
  • Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO)

  5 Present Status and Capacity Development to Enhance Level of Preparedness for Response Top

Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) is a nodal agency for advising authorities for any nuclear/radiological emergency in public domain. DAE through the various ERCs have already developed technical expertise, systems, software and methodology for quick impact assessment which may be required for the implementation of countermeasures if required following any nuclear disaster/radiological emergency. During the last five years, Radiation Safety Systems Division of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre has conducted eight Training of Trainers (TOT) courses for 200 officers from paramilitary forces and also 500 officers trained as 'First Responders' in addition to a large number of Defence officers (more than 500) also trained through various capsules.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Department of Atomic Energy has identified the education and training as it's priority programme. It started with awareness creation through training courses, workshops at different locations in the country. An attempt to establish more ERCs in the country is a continuous process initiated by DAE to improve the response time during any radiological emergency in the country. In order to meet specific needs of emergency response, it is essential to establish more ERCs and ERTs, QRTs and share expertise among more organizations.

The various types of training courses have been developed depending upon the educational level and the background of the response personnel and the type of work to be carried out during Emergency management. The important aspect of Medical Emergency management requires planning by hospitals which includes up-gradation of earmarked hospitals, development of mobile hospitals and mobile medical teams supported by communication backups and adequate medical logistics for radiological emergency. The establishment of Medical decontamination facilities at various hospitals including use of decontamination agents and Personnel Protective Equipments (PPEs) etc. is of great significance. Training of doctors in handling radiation injuries and decontamination of the affected victims due to any radiological accident should be given top priority.

The successful response to any terrorist event like RDD/IND event requires equipping various agencies with radiation detection instruments, Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) with realistic training. In order to confirm the absence/presence of radioactivity during any terrorist attack, various agencies will have to quickly respond and work together. The issue of trained manpower and certification as well as the recognition of trained expert should be examined by stake holders and national authorities.

  6 Conclusion Top

Radiological emergencies had been very rare in the past and practical experience in handling such situations are limited to very few personnel in the world. Hence, it is important for every nation to strengthen radiological emergency preparedness and response capability which includes early detection and quick response for any nuclear/radiological emergencies including radiological terrorism. The training of emergency response personnel will help in quick decision making, planning and effective response during such emergencies. This corroborates the need for refresher courses and field exercises to be conducted at regular intervals for evaluating the quality of preparedness.

  7 References Top

  1. 0EPR (2005), Preparation, conduct and evaluation of exercises and test preparedness for a nuclear or radiological emergency, EPR- Exercise.
  2. IAEA (2004), Emergency Notification and Assistance, Technical Operations Manual, EPR-ENATON, IAEA, Vienna.
  3. IAEA (2003), Methods for developing arrangements for response to a nuclear or radiological Emergency, EPR-METHOD, IAEA, Vienna.


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  In this article
1 Introduction
2 Nuclear/Radiol...
3 Necessity of E...
4 The Stakeholders
5 Present Status...
6 Conclusion
7 References

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