Radiological and Nuclear Emergency Preparedness Information

PUBLISHED: Apr 13, 2018
Relevant to: All Healthcare Organizations

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have multiple resources to assist health care facilities prepare for radiological and nuclear emergencies. Preparation for these types of emergencies should be a fundamental part of an organization's emergency preparedness plans.

Key information to be aware of includes that exposure to radiation can affect the body in several ways. The adverse health effects from exposure to radiation range from mild, such as skin reddening, to serious, such as Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS), cancer, and death. The adverse health effects of radiation exposure depend on the amount and type of radiation absorbed by the body. The duration of exposure (short vs. continuous) causes different adverse effects.

Exposure to radiation during a radiological or nuclear emergency can result from exposure to an external radiation source without any direct contact with radioactive materials, from direct contamination with radioactive materials, or from a combination of both. The type of exposure that would occur depends on the type of emergency.

  • External Radiation Source: Exposure can occur when all or part of the body absorbs radiation from an external radiation source without any direct contact with radiological materials. Exposure to an external source of radiation stops when a person leaves the area of the radiation source, the source is shielded, or the process causing exposure is halted.
  • Direct Contamination: Exposure also can occur when a person is contaminated with radioactive particles, which can be external and/or internal.
    • External contamination occurs when radioactive materials are deposited on external body parts such as skin, hair, and eyes, and clothes. External contamination stops when the radioactive material is removed by taking off contaminated clothing and completely washing off the contamination.
    • Internal contamination occurs when radioactive materials are taken into the body by inhalation or ingestion, or through open wounds. The deposition of radioisotopes in organs results in local exposure. Internal contamination stops when the radioactive material decays, is eliminated from the body via natural processes, or is removed by medical countermeasures.

Organizations should routinely review their policies for identifying and responding to radiological and nuclear emergencies. The FDA has some medical countermeasures available for treating the adverse health effects from exposure to radiation as well as for limiting or removing internal contamination to help prevent or minimize adverse health effects. In the event of a radiological or nuclear emergency, medical professionals must determine if MCMs are needed. A link to FDA information on MCMs is provided below. Also included with today’s notice are example policies related to radiological emergency response.

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