Operational Preparedness of Field-Teams in Different Stages Of A Nuclear & Radiological (N&R) Event

A Multi-Dimensional Perspective

By Dr. Ori Nissim Levy, International Expert and researcher in Nuclear Defense, Haifa University, Israel & Mr. Avihai Koresh, Researcher, Operational Nuclear Defense Model (ONDM), Israel

Nuclear and Radiological (N&R) materials are widely handled and have many positive civilian applications, yet in rare occasions they can pose a threat from an accident or deliberate action. The nuclear event in Fukushima in 2011 is the most recent example of such an event and was a vivid reminder of the continuous need for preparedness. Currently, a team of scientists from 10 countries called the World Nuclear Forum 193 (WNF-193) is working on an overall N&R event preparedness States Rating Index, the WNF-193-N&R-SR01-2021. It applies a new perspective of disaster management that redefines the term "preparedness". The basic scheme of the rating system was developed by the Operational Nuclear Defense Model (ONDM) team that divide any N&R event into nine consecutive stages that encompass the complete event life cycle. WNF-193 team measure states readiness in each stage in order to obtain a broader perspective of preparedness, understand the strengths and weaknesses of each country - and address them before any disaster occurs.

A New Perspective: What Is Preparedness for an N&R Event?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, preparedness is a term that means being "ready to deal with a situation", a vague and broad definition. Everyone agrees that it is necessary to be prepared for an N&R event - but what does it actually mean? According to the view developed by the ONDM team, which is used as the base scale for the WNF-193 States Rating Index, there is a need to distinguish "preparedness" from "readiness". Readiness is a very specific element, as firefighter's readiness to fight fires or CBRN team's readiness to respond to an event. It is just a specific part of the overall preparedness of the state.

Preparedness is a multi-dimensional concept that means much more than just being ready to cope with a specific event. It encompasses all aspects of the event, from having emergency plans, specialized training and CBRN teams, to the ability to rehabilitate damaged areas and address social and financial impacts after the field-teams are no longer required. Preparedness for a large-scale N&R event, according to ONDM team and the WNF-193 States Rating Index, is to envision the event from beginning to end and to know exactly what are the important elements to deal with at each point in time. The horizontal dimension of preparedness divides any N&R event into nine sequential stages called Life Cycle Stage (LCS). Each LCS is relevant to a specific point in time of the nuclear event, from routine stage before a disaster to the rehabilitation and back to normal, sometimes dozens of years after the crisis. The nine LCS's together constitute the Complete Life Cycle of any N&R event. Additionally, the stages have their own vertical dimension of readiness, from state-level decision-makers to local level through professional teams and sometimes encompassing the public. All of the stages have a place and role in the overall readiness of the LCS, that eventually merges into a multi-dimensional complete preparedness, as a complete orchestra.

Preparedness is a multi-dimensional concept that means much more than just being ready to cope with a specific event.

The Complete Life Cycle of N&R Event

Preparedness is not just readiness for one or two N&R stages - Preparedness entails that the State is ready for all the nine-stages. Every LCS stage is different as actions that need to be taken differ, depending on the goal that needs to be achieved, in political, administrative or organizational terms. These stages are the following.

  • LCS-1: Routine: it is a day-to-day routine stage when there is no information or sign of a N&R event. At this stage, the focus is on high levels to construct a designated arrangement to cope with a N&R event and to execute periodic drills. Here, the field-teams must constantly train and assimilate new knowledge.

  • LCS-2: Emergency routine: at this stage, there is information or circumstances indicating that a N&R incident might occur. Here the focus starts to turn on the emergency forces, with emphasis on CBRN teams and field-teams located at the closest point to an event and capable of describing the most reliable and up-to-date information.

  • LCS-3: The moment of an incident: this stage describes a specific moment or when it is known for certain that an N&R incident has occurred. In the case of a nuclear facility incident, the readiness of the power-plant engineers and automated systems are at the focal point. Here the objective is to comprehend exactly what event is being confronted, to begin initial documentation, to understand how likely it is for the event to get out of control and see whether the situation will escalate and determine the best coping mechanisms.

  • LCS-4: Initial, immediate reaction: Immediate, mainly spontaneous, actions occur. The immediate reaction is carried out by anyone who are in the relevant area, as CBRN teams, emergency teams, decision-makers and especially the non-professional public. The aim is to begin actions to mitigate and ease the event in its initial stages according to a planned order of action. At this stage the focus shifts to emergency teams at the immediate vicinity and their readiness to cope with the situation, mainly specially trained CBRN teams. If the emergency teams could response adequately, according to efficient emergency plans and past trainings, they could take control of the incident and is will be considered a small-scale event.

  • LCS-5: Second reaction: at this stage there is an ambition to mitigate the event and turn initial reactions into organized arrangements whereby everyone acts according to existing instructions. It represents an organized top-directed response using covering emergency forces, and the key personnel are the police, fire fighters and even medical crews. This stage occurs when an event is not successfully controlled within the framework of the initial response and attempts to mitigate the event in its initial stages has failed. The second reaction aimed at limiting the impact of what is now a severe N&R event and to mitigate as much as possible its outcome.

  • LCS-6: Broad reaction: this stage occurs if the second reaction failed to achieve its goal. Here the country is dealing with a large-scale N&R event, disaster, crisis, in which all enveloping systems cope with the wide-scale emergency situation, including organized bodies and government. Everyone is important at this stage - from emergency forces to civilian volunteers and from teachers to the media. Broad reaction also requires international assistance and cooperation with other countries and international agencies, for assistance or humanitarian aid.

  • LCS-7: Short-term rehabilitation: The state is starting to cope with long-term effects of having halted a crisis/disaster. The focus turns to getting life back to normal through immediate crisis management. The situation shifts from holding to consolidation. The emergency crews become less relevant, and these teams are no more so heavily relied on. Rather, the reliance shifts to government policy and economic capabilities.

  • LCS-8: long-term rehabilitation: this stage represents rehabilitation and rebuilding, people returning to damaged areas and moving from crisis to growth. Long-term rehabilitation occurs when a country is affected by a disaster, impacting all aspects of life. A good example of a country reaching this stage would be Fukushima, after the " great-three" disaster in 2011.

  • LCS-9: Ambition to return to normal: At this stage, it appears that all actions have been executed in order to mitigate and repair the effects of a disasters. The re-building might take decades as demonstrated by Fukushima and Chernobyl. For this pro-longed process to work, all plans must the monitored accordingly. Lessons are learned, new tactics will be employed to improve preparedness in the routine stage. Currently, this is the stage reached following the incident in Chernobyl (1986), Ukraine.

An N&R event consists of several stages, each with its own objectives, aims, actions and relevant personnel - and preparedness means readiness. It does not just mean readiness of field-teams or safety procedures, but it is a transparent, all-encompassing process. At each LCS different forces come into play that require unique solutions, and actions needed to mitigate the event at its initial stages are different than actions for a large-scale reaction or rehabilitation.

Simulations of ONDM preparedness model on several cities with more than 200,000 residents showed that at the local level of preparedness there is a strong emphasis on short-term - and neglect for the long-term preparedness. This was proven to be the case from the work undertaken by the WNF-193 team, as it seemed to indicate that states assign more emphasis on some stages than they do for the others. Most states put more emphasis on immediate reaction and mitigation, and less emphasis on long-term reaction or rehabilitation. This has a negative impact on their overall preparedness score, according to WNF-193 States Ranking Index, because neglecting rehabilitation and long-term impacts means that a state will not deal with a large-scale event successfully. In fact, in previous N&R events, most of the impact was not caused from direct radiation but from long-term neglect and lack of readiness at these stages

If a country is ill-prepared to handle all of the critical elements of an N&R event, then it is far from prepared for such a disaster. The WNF-193 States Ranking Index aims to identify possible short-comings as well as areas where a state does well in regard to horizontal and vertical dimensions of preparedness. This way any country could improve its preparedness and better defend its citizens.

* For more information and tutorials contact the Authors.

Dr. Ori Nissim Levy is International Expert and researcher in Nuclear Defense (Nuk-Def). PhD researcher at Haifa University and teaches at in the Faculty of Engineering at Ariel University. Supervises emergency app’s development projects. Chairman of WNF-193 (www.ONDM.co; www.WNF-193.com).

Avihai Koresh is a researcher at ONDM team, a senior member of WNF-193 and currently studying for master’s degree in philosophy of science at Tel Aviv University.