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Science and Technology Snapshot: A New Kind of Responder Brings Special Expertise to Disasters

Snapshot: A New Kind of Responder Brings Special Expertise to Disasters

Release Date: 
January 27, 2017

An emergency response incident commander should be well-versed on how to respond to all hazards, including the intricacies of radiological and nuclear incidents. Because the hazards associated with radiological or nuclear (rad/nuc) incidents are uniquely challenging to convey accurately to first responders, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has developed a solution in the form of the Radiological Operations Support Specialist (ROSS) Program. In the field, the ROSS makes recommendations, interprets models, and analyzes data for that incident commander.

The ROSS program helps radiation safety professionals integrate seamlessly with the incident command system so they can provide emergency-specific rad/nuc information to the incident commander, allowing emergency managers to make better decisions specific to the incident.  S&T, in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Energy, designed the ROSS program to ensure radiation experts are properly trained when mobilized as part of the incident command structure to help make the right recommendations, and to improvise if need be. 

“By training radiation safety professionals on how incidents are managed and the types of radiological emergencies that local communities may face, these radiation protection experts, or ROSS, can provide necessary information, guidance and recommendations to incident commanders and decision-makers at the scene of a radiation incident to protect the public and responders,” said Orly Amir, program analyst for DHS S&T’s First Responder Group (FRG).

The ROSS training and certification program gives radiation health specialists emergency management knowledge. The training program developed by S&T, initially piloted in September 2016 and recently adopted by FEMA to manage and run – accomplishes this through a 40-hour training that establishes clear guidelines regarding their roles and responsibilities. Once certified, ROSS will be assigned a “type.” Each type – administrators believe there will be three – signifies a varying level of capability. Those capabilities range from making recommendations on appropriate personal protective equipment for responders, to more advanced support, such as helping to coordinate a national radiological emergency response. The reason for these types is that different incidents may require different capabilities. 

“The idea is that the ROSS training and certification will improve the level of rad capability within the incident command structure,” said Amir.

First responders and radiation experts both indicated the need for a specialist with these skills. With the input of first responders and radiological experts, FEMA, DOE, CRCPD, and S&T have already built training courses, onsite informational aides, and tools to train the first round of ROSS pilot participants. Now transitioned to FEMA, the in-person training will focus on radiological emergency response, terminology standardization, and analyzing the best responses for different types of hazards. For state and local radiological and health experts, the training is scheduled to be funded by FEMA’s current training budget.

With the ROSS certification, health physicists and local and regional health and safety officials now have a vehicle to directly impact the outcome of an incident with their specialized knowledge. During a radiological incident, that knowledge would be critical to any incident commander.

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