Editor’s Note: This is a previously published article, but thought it would make a nice end-of-the-month reminder since September is National Preparedness Month — an annual reminder of how important it is for all of us to be ready for disasters and emergencies.
Radiation is an often overlooked threat, yet unsecured radioactive sources can lead to catastrophic scenarios for law enforcement and emergency response teams, and can have devastating, long-term implications for a community, city or entire region.
As a decision-maker in your agency, how do you begin to formulate a plan for threat detection and radiation preparedness, if you haven’t already? How do you determine which instrumentation you need, how you will secure funding and who in your department requires training? Being able to monitor, detect, and respond to a radiation threat is critical to public safety as well as to your first responders.
Here are five steps that every law enforcement agency should consider to ensure radiation preparedness:
Step 1: Recognize the importance of preparation.
Radiological disasters may be infrequent, but they can and do happen. The widespread availability of radiological materials at unsecured facilities increases the potential for terrorists to obtain these materials and use them. They can be accessed at hospitals and blood banks; sites with integrated radioactive sources, such as bottling plants; and through mobile sources in non-invasive gauging equipment. There is also frequently unrealized radioactive waste on and around interstate highways. The latest technological advances now provide law enforcement officers with the ability to monitor large areas for radioactive sources in real time. Additionally, they virtually eliminate nuisance alarms generated by people with recent medical treatments or by natural radiation from building materials.
Step 2: Develop a coordinated, smart program.
To determine how many pieces of radiation detection and measurement instrumentation they will require and who will be operating the instruments, law enforcement agencies need to account for such factors as size of jurisdiction, population, density and proliferation of radioactive sources, and proximity to critical infrastructure such as ports, borders or power plants. A coordinated effort to thwart radiological dispersal devices (RDDs) usually involves a combination of handheld personal radiation detectors (PRDs) for field agents and larger, more sensitive mobile and fixed detector systems strategically placed to ensure that a city of any size is covered.
Step 3: Determine funding sources.
Grants are available to reduce the financial burden on local budgets, including grants earmarked specifically for radiation detection and identification instruments. Federal grants are often available through the Department of Homeland Security. PoliceGrantsHelp.com and FireGrantsHelp.com allow units to identify local, state and federal grant programs.
Step 4: Identify instrumentation and a vendor with solutions to match your needs.
An economical and comprehensive radiation monitoring plan will allow you to purchase the proper radiation detection tools from a single vendor that offers a complete product portfolio. This will allow simplified training programs by leveraging common user interfaces and terminology. Additionally, using a single vendor ensures streamlined services, including common spare parts, depot repair centers and a single point of contact for service support.
Step 5: Train agents and implement your plan.
The most innovative devices available today are designed for use by non-technical experts. Personal Radiation Detectors (PRDs) are smaller, more sensitive, easier-to-use and more portable than typical Geiger counters. Agencies can confidently send officers into the field equipped with pager-sized PRDs with minimal training; the devices do all the work — detecting shielded radioactive sources, identifying them and guiding users to the appropriate next steps in the plan. Agencies can likewise deploy fixed monitors in various locations and environments, with agents able to monitor data remotely. For fast screening of an area, mobile detection systems offer a great deal of sensitivity to quickly determine if any sources are present. Typically mounted to vehicles or in backpacks, the large detectors allow scanning with speed to quickly determine source presence, ensuring ALARA principles are used to keep users safe.
Many law enforcement agencies are aware that a radiation preparedness plan is necessary, but they don’t know where to begin. So start with this list.