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  1. Science and Technology Directorate
  2. News Room
  3. Snapshot: S&T NUSTL Supports FR Radiological Preparedness

Snapshot: S&T NUSTL Supports First Responder Radiological Preparedness

Release Date: July 2, 2019

A radiological dispersal device (RDD), or “dirty bomb,” detonation in a local jurisdiction will have significant consequences for public safety, responder health and critical infrastructure operations. First responders and emergency managers must quickly assess the hazard, issue protective action recommendations, triage and treat the injured, and secure the scene in support of the individuals, families and businesses in the impacted community. This is why, in 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL), in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) published guidance for first responders and emergency managers on how to plan for the first minutes of an RDD detonation response.

A screenshot of a radioactive blast will release radioactive ballistic fragments. The Radiological Dispersal Device Response Guidance Planning for the First 100 Minutes is the result of years of scientific research and experimentation conducted by DOE laboratories – Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and Sandia National Laboratories – coupled with S&T NUSTL’s direct conversations with first responders about operationalizing and documenting the scientific recommendations. The Guidance includes five missions and ten tactics to address initial response efforts. It is intended to be engaging and easy to use, allowing communities to plug in their specific assets, agencies and response protocols.

“The Guidance provides emergency planners and first responders across the nation with a playbook of best practices to start from in planning for a RDD detonation response,” said Ben Stevenson, Program Manager at S&T NUSTL.

Now that the Guidance is published, S&T’s NUSTL is leading efforts to make it accessible to the responder communities who will need to incorporate it into their planning efforts and to state and federal partners that will support the response.

Animating the Guidance

To support responder understanding of the missions and tactics described in the RDD Response Guidance, S&T’s NUSTL worked with DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to animate the missions and tactics. Using a realistic RDD detonation scenario, the team developed short training clips that can be used to:

  • Instruct response actions;
  • Show appropriate personal protective equipment; and
  • Provide realistic radiological readings that responders may see during a response.

These are available on S&T’s website and also on the RadResponder platform.

Training the Nation

S&T’s NUSTL is working with several organizations to disseminate the key missions and tactics of the Guidance as well as the animations to responders across the nation. On the immediate horizon are:

  1. The development of a train-the-planner course for emergency planners training federal personnel located regionally across the country who support state and local activities;
  2. The publication of templated RDD detonation exercise materials that first responders, Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams (WMD-CSTs) and other partners can use individually or collaboratively.

On the first effort, S&T’s NUSTL, FEMA’s National Training and Education Division, and the Counterterrorism Operations Support Center for Radiological Nuclear Training are designing a training specifically for emergency planners who are generally responsible for writing and organizing emergency response plans for local communities. This train-the-planner course will be offered as a mobile course and yield the basis of an RDD response plan for a local community. This course will be piloted in the coming year before it is finalized within the FEMA course catalog in 2021.

A video screenshot of a first responder uses technology to determine the amount of radiation is present. “Partnering with other agencies to develop and deliver the train-the-planner course brought together expertise from across the nation to ensure the training course will meet the objectives,” said James Dansby, Program Manager at FEMA.

S&T’s NUSTL is also executing two-day train-the-trainer sessions in all eight of the DOE Radiological Assistant Program (RAP) regions. Working with BNL and DOE NNSA, the first day of this training allows representatives in each RAP region to receive training on the Guidance, and on the second day they help the S&T’s NUSTL project team to train regional representatives from their federal, state and local jurisdictions on the key response missions and tactics they learned about on the previous day. This effort will create a cadre who can support state and local understanding of the science behind the RDD Response Guidance for planning purposes. All sessions are scheduled to be complete by August 2019.

Dan Blumenthal, Consequence Management Program Manager at DOE NNSA said, “I wanted to make sure the RDD Response Guidance is being adopted at the state and local levels, and that all their questions are being answered. One way to do that is making sure RAP teams are up to speed.”

Lastly, S&T’s NUSTL is partnering with Idaho National Laboratory to develop standardized exercise templates for RDD detonation responses that can be used by the National Guard Bureau 57 WMD-CSTs across the country in their required training and exercises, in conjunction with state and local partners. Providing standardized training and exercise procedures, rooted in sound scientific principles and practices from the Guidance will support local radiological preparedness and encourage interagency coordination for radiological/nuclear response and recovery. These templated exercises will be available to state and local partners in 2020.

Publishing the RDD Response Guidance is a big step forward in ensuring that state and local first responders have a solid scientific basis of the hazard and an easy-to-adopt method of planning for the initial response. But publishing guidance documents is not enough, and S&T’s NUSTL and its partners will continue working to ensure the recommendations are further integrated into training courses, exercise design documents and national response protocols. True preparedness for radiological emergencies comes from good coordination and communication between agencies and protocols at the local, state and federal levels, and S&T’s NUSTL will continue to execute research and development projects that, while focusing on supporting first responder radiological capabilities, benefit a comprehensive capability across agencies and levels of government.

Watch Video Now!

A screenshot of the RDD Response Guidance document and a screenshot of a smart phone with an emergency alert displaying on the screen.

1. From the video, a radioactive blast will release radioactive ballistic fragments.
2. From the video, a first responder uses technology to determine the amount of radiation is present.


Last Updated: 02/12/2024
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