Tests and trainings included in response to Radiological and Nuclear threats (PART I)

By Radoslaw Trawinski, Crisis Management Specialist involved in Security Research Projects

"RN threat situation has a different characteristic than a virus spread but still in many cases would involve the same group of first responders, decision makers and other stakeholders."

Pandemic of Coronavirus brought many changes in people’s lives all over the world. It had an impact on our work, lifestyle, habits and health. One of the additional effects of COVID-19 crisis is the increase of public awareness regarding resilience and capabilities of public emergency services and medical research institutes. Doctors, nurses, police officers, scientists are now called “frontline fighters”, many of them are treated as local heroes and their actions are followed by all media 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, pandemic also exposed many examples of insufficiency in a healthcare system, holes in security procedures, chaotic implementation of extraordinary law regulations and massive distribution of misinformation. Now every person, not only an expert, knows, that there are still several domains in which global civilization needs to improve in order to properly respond to these kinds of threats. This way we reached one aspect that could be easily missed in Coronavirus situation. Biological threat, such as this virus, is not the only source which can cause this kind of big-scale crisis. Radiological and Nuclear (RN) incidents may be as deadly or even more. RN threat situation has a different characteristic than a virus spread but still in many cases would involve the same group of first responders, decision makers and other stakeholders. RN situation did not happen now, but history shows that it may happen anytime and almost anywhere in the world. Building on past experience, what can be done today to improve our safety in this domain? H2020 INCLUDING initiative is about to provide several answers to that question. Project INCLUDING (Innovative cluster for radiological and nuclear emergencies) is an EU-funded project under Horizon 2020 Security program, focused on response to RN threats. Its main goal is to develop multi-national cooperation system which will improve test and training methodologies for first responders and their equipment and also enable to increase effectiveness of expensive and highly specialized RN training infrastructure in Europe.

Radioactivity Environmental Monitoring available for everyone via Internet

Level of RN threat awareness in EU countries Most people asked about the history of RN incidents in Europe would probably say one word- Chernobyl. Undoubtedly it is the biggest and most famous incident ever occurred in the old continent, but definitely not the only one. Since the explosion of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima on August 6th 1945, which opened a new era of RN threat, territory of Europe suffered from at least 16 serious incidents taking place in UK, Spain, France and several other countries. Causes of these incidents proved that not using nuclear power does not make us safe, as RN power source may easily come to us from outside. It may be brought not only by the radiation cloud (Chernobyl) but also military planes carrying atomic bombs (B-52 incident in Spain in 1966) or deliberate terrorist attacks with the use of “dirty bombs”. That is why each EU country, no matter if it is using nuclear power or not, should stay resilient against RN threats. Now, what is the reality? In 2014, based on risk safety assessments performed in years 2011-2012 and lessons learned after Fukushima incident, the EU published the Nuclear Safety Directive and obliged all member countries to fulfill it. Furthermore, the Union established EURDEP - The European Radiological Data Exchange Platform, which gathers readings of radiation levels from dozens of registered measurement stations from EU and non-EU partner countries, with free access to collected data via digital map portal. Nevertheless, the detailed RN threat response policy is managed individually by each EU member which is reflected by many differences in safety procedures, available budgets, equipment used by first responders, education, functionality and accessibility of training facilities. Examples of current differences are not difficult to find. EUDERP radiation readings map shows clearly that tightness of measurement station nets much differ in each EU country.

Realistic training environment is priceless for the first responders

Examples of RN training infrastructure in EU Analysis realized during previous EU projects, such as FP7 EDEN, proved, that each member state has its own policy and capabilities also in the area of emergency units’ training for RN threat scenario. These differences may bring a positive result in the future, as it gives a chance to exchange experience on multi-national level and identify most effective training methods. Consortium of the INCLUDING project include several entities with very interesting RN training resources and knowledge which may be useful for other stakeholders in EU. ENEA Nuclear Centre in Casaccia, Italy, manages two nuclear reactors called TRIGA and TAPIRO. Each year the facility organizes big scale emergency exercise answering simulated nuclear incident. It involves the internal headquarters for action coordination, but also ENEA response team and several external units invited for the event, such as firefighters and medical assistance. In case of a RN crisis, or trainings related to it, Casaccia Centre provides a long list of professional equipment essential for first responders: protective equipment, drones and robots for radiation sensing, dosimeters, laser sensor, decontamination zone and much more. Another interesting example coming from INCLUDING consortium is the Joint CBRN Defence Company managed by the Greek Ministry of National Defense. Its facility located in Chaidari is a unique test and training area for RN threat scenarios with an open space of 2000 square meters qualified for use of UAVs and UGVs and with all the necessary equipment for the conduct of RN material identification and decontamination procedures. Several buildings infrastructure provides conference auditorium, lecture rooms, indoor exercise classrooms and equipment storage. Furthermore, its location placed 40 km from Athens Airport makes it easily available for foreign experts. Last test field from INCLUDING consortium which has to be mentioned is Mikkeli, in Finland. This city is called a “Living Lab” or “Safety Headquarters of Finland”. The history of this last title comes from the times of World War II, when Mikkeli hosted the chief officers of Finnish Armed Forces. Nowadays this city is a huge test and training facility used by many types of first response units and crisis management experts. It provides both natural environment, such as wide-open forest areas, and specialized testing workbenches, including RN laboratories. One thing that needs to be kept in mind while planning a training in Mikkeli is its geographical latitude. Nordic harsh climate makes events more convenient in late spring or summer season. All the above-mentioned examples and the sharing of this expertise has been facilitated by the INCLUDING project, which represents only a small part of what the consortium may provide. We may expect that capabilities which are foreseen to be revealed in upcoming years in the whole EU by inviting external test and training entities to the INCLUDING Federation will be even more significant.

Unmanned vehicles finds their use in many scenarios, where the life of first responders is threatened

New technical solutions in RN training Nowadays capabilities of the crisis response trainings are always related to technology. Even in a non-electronic area such as personal protective equipment, still new fabrics and designs are developed and tested in order to improve their endurance and comfort of use. But new available technology not only brings improvement, it also opens new doors, new opportunities and forms of training, which never existed before. Solutions provided by a small group of INCLUDING partners show the possible potential, which may be widely extended while the project Federation will grow. One of the areas which were seriously developed in the past years is an incident 3D modeling and other prediction tools. Software enabling visualization of a radiation cloud spread or a crowd movement mechanism are getting more and more complex and precise, considering a long list of relevant parameters. These tools are useful not only for tabletop exercises, but also during actual crisis response when the forecast of a cloud movement direction and a range of expected fallout area are essential. Other type of tools which are lately very popular, not only in RN domain, are unmanned vehicles. The last decade was a huge mile step for this technology which from solution reserved for military applications turned into a tool which can be bought by anyone in the supermarket, its movement may be easily programmed and its work space is not limited to the ground but is also in the sky, on the water surface and beneath it. So called drones and robots in RN threat response are used for taking samples, radiation level measurements, live image transmission and many other actions in order to avoid sending people in the danger zone. Another innovation from last years which now has its prime time for implementation in engineering, science, entertainment and security is virtual reality (VR). It is unique combination of electronics and software which has an impact on our senses like never before. Presently, VR is not limited to the goggles - it is a combined system of incentives working not only on our eyes, but also the touch, hearing and smell. It tries to move human mind to a different place, which is exactly the point of RN crisis response training. Realistic environment for such training is often very difficult to achieve. VR erases this problem, making it possible to perform an exercise within the walls of a single classroom. Nothing will replace reality - that is a sure thing, but these new digital tools may be an effective supplement in order to increase frequency of dynamic action trainings.

Radoslaw Trawinski graduated from the Warsaw University of Technology with specialization in spatial information systems. Since 2013 he is a Crisis Management Specialist involved in several security research projects (FP7, Horizon 2020, NCBiR) related with CBRNE threat response, humanitarian demining and police operation’s planning. He is responsible for project results presentation & evaluation, trainings management and GIS products delivery. He also organized over a dozen crisis response on-field demonstrations, tabletop exercises, conferences and test campaigns. He is accustomed to work in close cooperation with public services and crisis response end-users.