The creation of realistic, safe radiation safety training scenarios that replicate the invisible threat of radiation is a vital and ongoing challenge for radiation safety / protection advisers, CBRNe and HazMat instructors worldwide. These scenarios can take many forms - from safety management, to training exercises for the military or as a teaching aid for first responders.
Most radiation detection equipment is fairly straightforward to use. The skill lies in ensuring that trainees understand the significance of their detector readings, that they can recognise changes in units of measurement, and that they are familiar with the concept of shielding, survey, contamination avoidance and decontamination procedures.
For those tasked with the teaching of radiation safety, it’s crucial to be able to recreate applied, hands-on training scenarios that replicate the features of a radiation incident in as life-like a setting as possible.
High profile international radiological events such as the disasters in Fukushima and Chernobyl, together with the growing concern over state sponsored nuclear weapons programmes, further highlight the necessity for the military and first response teams to be able to react with confidence and speed to any potential radiological incident.
Exposure to high levels of radiation is not something we expect to encounter in everyday life. But in the rare event of exposure, contamination or a spill / release due to accident, a consequence of nature or a deliberate act of aggression, the right exercise scenarios will ensure those charged with initial response to recognise, react to and contain the situation.
So what is the best strategy for ensuring worker safety; that best practices are employed; that personnel responding to radiological incidents are prepared for the possibility of exposure to radiation; and that any exposure is "as low as is reasonably achievable" (ALARA)?
Furthermore, what training methods currently exist to accurately replicate the conditions of such an imperceptible and yet potentially harmful energy?
This page explores the wide variety of challenges that are most commonly encountered by radiation safety officer, instructors, exercise planners, the military and first response teams in their training for radiation incidents.
It also highlights the options currently available for radiation training and it examines the vital role that radiation training systems can play in ensuring radiation safety and preparedness.
Ionizing radiation is an invisible force that is constantly around us, both in the form of naturally occurring radiation and as the result of man-made radioactive materials such as medical radiotherapy, x-rays or nuclear fuels.
Any exposure to radioactivity carries with it some risk, depending on the energy of the radiation emissions, its activity (or disintegrations per second), the rate of metabolism (how quickly the radioactivity dissipates in and from the body) and where the radioactivity is concentrated in the body.
The amount of radiation that an individual absorbs is measured as a dose. For ionising radiation (such as x-rays, gamma-rays, electrons and neutrons) the quantity of absorbed energy is measured in Gray (Gy) which calculates the energy deposited per unit mass of tissue.
The biological effect of radiation is measured in the unit of sieverts (Sv) [in some countries Rems or Rads] which are also the units typical of most radiation dose rate meters.
However as a sievert is extremely large, personal dose is typically measured in terms of thousandths of a sievert - (millisieverts) or millionths of a sievert (microsieverts).
On average, US civilians are exposed to an annual radiation dose of approximately 0.62 rem (or 620 millirem.) In the UK an individual’s annual dose is estimated at approximately 0.27 rem (or 270 millirem) per year. Both levels fall well within what are considered safe parameters for individual radiation exposure.
According to the UK based Public Health England (PHE) Radiation Protection Services Unit, the vast majority of civilian radiation exposure in the UK (in the region of 48%) comes from naturally occurring radioactive radon gases emanating from the ground.
A further 16% comes from medical radiation, 13% from terrestrial gamma radiation, 12% from cosmic radiation and 11% from intakes of radionuclides. Nuclear weapons fallout accounts for 0.2%, while occupational radiation exposure is 0.02% and exposure to radioactive discharges is calculated at 0.01%.
There are however certain environments (such as hospitals, research laboratories and areas of high level natural background radiation) where some potential health risks as a result of exposure to ionizing radiation may exist. And for military personnel or first responders, who may be required to respond to a range of potentially hazardous radiological incidents, the risk of exposure to dangerous levels of ionizing radiation is much greater.
Exposure to radioactivity can be defined as being when part, or all, of the body is irradiated.
Such exposures may occur in widely varying situations - for example, very short term exposure to a high dose rate radiation field, or when radioactivity is deposited externally (directly onto skin or clothing) or internally (as a result of inhalation, ingestion or via a wound.)
The effect of radiation on human tissue varies depending on the radiation dose, which is determined by the type of radiation, which part of the body is affected and the exposure situation eg. how much radioactivity is taken into the body.
Individuals who have been exposed to very high levels of radiation can develop Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS), in some cases within a matter of seconds of coming into contact with the radioactive source. The initial symptoms of ARS can include mild headache, vomiting, altered level of consciousness and increased body temperature.
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There are three key factors that will determine an individual’s ionizing radiation exposure - the duration of the exposure time, the distance from the radiation source and the extent and nature of shielding protecting the individual from the radiation source:
Time is an important consideration in limiting exposure as the amount of exposure increases or decreases depending on the how long an individual is exposed to the radiation source.
The longer the exposure to radiation, the larger the dose will be - and any reduction in the duration of exposure will reduce the effective dose proportionally.
The maximum amount of time that can be safely spent in a radiation environment is defined as the ‘stay time’ which is calculated as:
Stay Time = Exposure Limit/Dose Rate
Distance can greatly affect radiation exposure.
Inverse square law dictates that the greater the distance between the individual and the radiation source the less the exposure (ie that a specified physical quantity or intensity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source of that physical quantity.)
So each time we double the distance between ourselves and the source, the dose received reduces by a quarter of what it was previously.
Distance is especially critical when dealing with gamma rays as these can travel a long way from the source, whereas beta particles can travel just a few feet / metres and alpha particles just a matter of fractions of an inch / millimetres.
As ionizing radiation passes through matter the intensity of the radiation reduces.
Solid materials (such as lead, concrete and gravel) or liquids such as water can all act as shields to absorb the energy of the radiation.
Inserting the proper shield between a person and a radiation source can greatly reduce, or in some cases even eliminate, the dose received.
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Successful training for radiation relies on four key elements - the authenticity of the teaching scenarios, the opportunity for hands-on learning using true-to-life instrumentation, the creation of a safe training environment and the ability to set up (and reset) exercises with ease.
Classroom teaching and theoretical understanding will always have a role to play, but nothing beats the opportunity to experience the conditions of a potential radiation incident in as realistic a setting as possible.
Classroom teaching and theoretical understanding will always have a role to play, but nothing beats the opportunity to experience the conditions of a potential radiation incident in as realistic a setting as possible.
While traditional “make-believe” training methods (such as when an instructor relays a set of pre-designed readings to their trainees) can offer some value, relying on a solely theoretical approach can result in crucial gaps in trainee preparedness.
A theoretical understanding of the readings on a radiation detector for example, can only go so far if the detectors that your trainees are learning with are only registering levels of harmless background radiation.
Radiation training scenarios that focus on applied learning techniques can empower trainees to:
Crucially too, access to hands-on training exercises can enable trainees to test their understanding of the importance of personal dose and the significance of shielding, time, distance and inverse square law (1/r2).
Radiation is an invisible, yet potentially harmful, form of energy. So the safety of the personnel directly involved in the exercise (both trainee and trainer), of the public at large and of the environment, should sit at the heart of any training exercise.
There are a vast array of legislative, administrative and Health and Safety implications which make the storing, transporting, handling and dispersion of live radiological sources a challenging (and often unviable) option for radiation safety training.
In the UK, the recently revised Ionizing Radiation Regulations (IRR2017) require that for certain types of activity and depending upon the risk, anyone working with ionizing radiation must inform the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and obtain permission prior to start of work.
In the US radiation protection responsibilities are assigned to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which is responsible for writing regulations that apply to individuals, businesses, states, local governments and other institutions.
One solution to the challenges of adhering to radiation safety regulations during training is to employ radiation training systems that enable environmentally-friendly, Beta/Gamma search and survey, radionuclide identification, contamination monitoring and dose rate assessment exercises to be carried out safely.
The most effective learning comes from practice and repetition. Any radiation safety training scenario should ideally be as simple as possible to set up and to repeat. It should also preferably be able to be carried out in any location (indoors or outdoors) and in any weather condition.
The scenario should perform consistently, whether it is an individual or group exercise; it should offer the opportunity to review each trainee’s performance and it should be quick and easy to reset.
Ideally too, the instrumentation used should require little or no preventative maintenance or recalibration, which will offer savings both in terms of time spent and expense - resulting in very low “whole life” cost of ownership.
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The potential threats of radiation exposure are many and varied, and can include:
Response teams may be asked to identify and contain an accidental release of an isotope resulting from damage to equipment containing a sealed radioactive source (such as a cell irradiator containing a 137Cs source>2000 Ci [74 TBq]) or a laboratory x-ray machine.
An accidental release of ionising radiation may also occur due to the incorrect storing, handling, transport or disposal of radioactive material or waste.
There are a vast array of potential industrial incidents that response teams may need to manage.
It may be a leak of ionising radiation due to damage to an x-ray generator used for security inspection or Positive Materials Identification (PMI.)
It may be the accidental release or loss of radioactive isotopes or sources in the process of non-destructive testing (NDT.)
Radiation incidents can also occur as a result of road traffic accidents involving vehicles that transport radiological sources.
Concern over the safety of nuclear power facilities has been a topic of public concern since the very first nuclear reactors were constructed in the early 1950‘s. As of 2014, there had been more than 100 serious nuclear accidents and incidents from the use of nuclear power.
To date however there has been only one nuclear emergency in the US - the accident at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI-2) nuclear power plant near Middletown, Pennsylvania, in 1979 - which remains to this day the most serious incident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history.
The Chernobyl incident in Ukraine, attributed to a combination of human error and violation of procedures has been well documented and underpins the need for thorough training and testing of all procedures and drills.
In March 2011, a tsunami that followed the Tohuku earthquake disabled the generators that would have powered the cooling system pumps at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma resulting in catastrophic failure and subsequent release.
This unfortunate sequence of events was found in July 2012 by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) to have been “foreseeable.”
While deliberate acts involving the use of a radiological source are thankfully rare, the potential impact on public safety is devastating and it is crucial that CBRNe response teams are comprehensively trained to handle such events. Simulation also has a key role to play in the prevention of such activities.
A deliberate act could be in the form of:
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Industrial operatives, radiation safety officers, health physicists, military personnel and first responders rely on two essential pieces of equipment when dealing with live radiation incidents in order to monitor dose and dose rate:
A survey meter (such as the Mirion RDS-200, Thermo FH40G or RadEye) is a portable, battery-powered radiation detector that is a vital tool in assessing dose rate, some of which can also accept probes to monitor personnel, equipment and facilities for radioactive contamination.
A typical device features an easily readable display and also provides an audible indication of the ionising radiation count or dose rate. The devices are often programmed to emit an alarm warning when a predetermined rate of radiation counts (or dose) has been exceeded.
A Personal Dosimeter (such as the Thermo EPD Mk2 or Mirion UDR13/14/15) is a hand-held device that measures an individual’s cumulative ionising radiation dose and which is programmed to set off alarms at preset thresholds.
A dosimeter monitors the Hp(10) dose (the depth dose of deep organs) and the Hp(0.07) dose (the estimated skin dose). An audible alarm (or chirp rate) increases with the rate of radiation intensity. Personal dosimeters can be worn to obtain a whole body dose and there are also specialist types that can be worn on the fingers or clipped to headgear, to measure the localised body irradiation for specific activities.
While survey meters and personal dosimeters are both fairly straightforward items of instrumentation, the challenge for radiation safety instructors lies in providing trainees with opportunities to test their ability to use these devices in realistic training scenarios.
However, unlike other HazMat safety training exercises such as with chemical warfare, where simulants that create “false positive” readings can be used, there is no alternative to radiation that can replicate a reading on an actual unmodified radiation detector.
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An electronic simulator is an intelligent computer/microcomputer-based simulation tool that enables the user to experience every operational feature of an actual detector with life-like accuracy and zero risk.
Electronic simulators are safe and environmentally friendly radiation training systems that can be used in a variety of scenarios (both indoor and outdoor) to teach:
Simulators can also offer significant time-saving advantages for training exercises as they remove the costly and time-consuming administrative effort normally associated with the transport, deployment and safe handling of radiological sources.
What are the essential features of a radiation simulator?
An electronic radiation simulator is a vital piece of CBRNe and Hazmat training equipment that ensures personnel are thoroughly prepared for real-life radiation incidents.
A well-designed simulator can enhance a trainee’s learning experience in the following ways:
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Electronic radiation simulators provide trainees with first-hand experience of detectors that are identical to the ones they will use on a live incident. In doing so they can offer huge benefits for personnel responsible for radiation safety:
The use of replica detectors ensures that trainees learn to trust the values displayed on their instruments, that they develop an understanding of the relationship between the measurements on their survey meter and their own personal dose readings and that they also experience and understand the real-time effects of Time, Distance and Shielding on their instrumentation and personal safety.
Safe and environmentally friendly; radiation training systems can be used in a variety of scenarios providing equal opportunity for all trainees to participate in training at any time and without any associated Health & Safety restrictions.
Simulator detectors offer the opportunity for genuine immersion training.
Replicating all the elements of a real-life incident exposes trainees to the range of emotional responses they may encounter in high-stress settings.
The use of simulators also means that training exercises can be repeated as many times as required without the need to decontaminate or to wait for radionuclides, used for teaching contamination monitoring, to decay prior to disposal.
Better learning outcomes
After action review (AAR) ensures trainees follow clearly set out procedures and that they understand when errors have been made, enabling mistakes to be rectified in future training exercises.
The use of simulators offers a significant time-saving advantage for training exercises.
They mitigate the costly and time-consuming administrative effort normally associated with the transport, deployment and safe handling of radionuclides to the training location.
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As with any form of simulation used in the context of training, some compromises have to be accepted.
The key is to strike the right balance between the desired training outcome and what is achievable.
Radiation behaves as it does due to the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum in which it exists coupled with the nature of the source; a single isotropic or directional emitter, particles as with contamination / fallout or liquid.
The dynamic ranges associated with radiation readings are also extremely large which can contribute to challenges in implementing simulation.
Ultimately you’ll want to consider what it is you wish your trainee to experience during the exercise and accept that achieving this goal may take priority over specific physical representations of what occurs in reality.
Some current methods of simulation training can be very instructor-intensive - meaning that the instructor will often find him or herself focused more on creating the “effect” for their student rather than on observing and assessing the student’s responses. Other techniques involving the temporary placement of a means to simulate the presence of radioactivity are more instructor friendly.
For contamination exercises, options include the placement of powder or liquid substances that can represent an actual contaminant, not just on people, but also on food. And being soluble, can be used to simulate contaminated water or for teaching coolant water sampling. These substances have the advantage of simulating cross contamination and are often ideal for teaching the handling of open sources in a laboratory environment. Simulant contaminants can also represent radioactive material on mining or drilling equipment or used to teach soil sampling.
Alternative methods enable the ability to hide a safe item underneath a surface such as clothing or a protective suit to simulate contamination. This method provides the instructor with the means to influence the maximum level or reading and to simulate partial or full decontamination based upon observation of the student's activity. It also has the advantage that poor decontamination activity can be accurately represented.
The ability to simulate contamination by virtual means is also possible by determining the physical position and orientation of the simulation probe in relation to a surface. To effect training in the correct use of an X-Ray probe for ground contamination monitoring, for example, a combination of GPS and distance measurement can be used.
Simulation of Gamma and high energy Beta emitters present their own unique challenges but are, within reason, still feasible. Simulation sources are able to represent either specific or mixes of radionuclides which can present simulated readings on simulated dose, dose-rate meters and spectrometers. The use of technology to determine the relative position, and therefore distance, between a simulation source and a simulation radiation meter for the demonstration of time/distance protection is also readily achievable.
The degree of shielding/protection provided by specific material types is a function of the energy concerned and the specific material.
The simulation of these effects is perhaps where compromise is relied upon to the greatest extent.
The reality is that safe alternatives will not be subjected to the same degree of attenuation (reduction in force) as actual radiation.
Technology now means shielding can be represented to a sufficient degree to enable students to appreciate its importance for protection.
However instructors need to clarify the differences, where appropriate, for the lesson being delivered. This may also vary depending upon the operational responsibilities of the trainee.
Once again we rely upon the need to demonstrate an effect for the student to experience. For example, while a radio signal used to simulate Gamma will not penetrate a metal shield, there are means by which this can be effectively represented for training purposes.
There is also the need to consider the specific type of scenario you wish to simulate, whether it be:
Ultimately what is important is to clarify your training objectives to ensure the most suitable technology is applied to achieve the desired training results within the available budgetary constraints.
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In this case study, firefighter Ross Smallcombe describes his experience of using using simulator radiation equipment in a radiation safety training exercise at the Ryde Fire Station on the Isle of Wight.
The fire station has an old abandoned holiday village down nearby which is used to train in many areas of rescue.
“Like any other day at the fire station, the daily equipment checks and maintenance, then through the door bursts a grinning Watch Manager with a bowl of folded bits of paper.
“Right, pick a piece of paper and then give the duty crew a five minute talk on the piece of equipment from the fire appliance,” he says.
“As we work through the pieces of paper it comes to my turn. In goes my hand, I open my piece of paper and the watch manager‘s grin widens. I have the Rados RDS 200 Universal Survey Meter (radiation detector).
“I began with how the Rados RDS 200 is operated, and its uses, including a confusing description of the types of radiation. I clearly needed to increase my knowledge of radiation and procedures around such a dangerous area.
“I decided the best way to increase my knowledge would be to put together a presentation about the Rados RDS 200 and a lecture covering radiation, and then to present this to the station crew.
“The biggest problem I found was being unable to carry out realistic training with the RADOS RDS 200 unless I could acquire some nasty radiation, which wasn’t going to happen. So I began collecting as much information as I could.”
Ross goes on to explain how he sourced the detector equipment for the training exercise:
“I came across a company ARGON Electronics, who specialise in CRBN (Chemical Biological Radiation Nuclear) Hazmat simulator training systems, supplying a very varied and comprehensive selection of simulators including the Rados RDS200 SIM.
“After visiting the Argon website I contacted them to enquire about the use of a Rados RDS200 simulator. “Within an hour I was having a conversation with Steven Pike (Managing Director) who was willing to assist me with my plans and loan me a kit which included simulation emitters (both directional and spherical), simulation powders and liquids, the GMP-11-SIM simulation beta contamination probe and EPD-MK2-SIM (personal dosimeters).
“This was fantastic news now I could plan a training package based on realistic scenarios, whilst evaluating this new equipment.
My first task was to design a lecture about radiation. “At the station we had input a few times on the subject of radiation presented by the Watch Officer. Although very good and in-depth, it was too complex for people without a scientific background, such as me and the majority of my colleagues.
“I stripped the subject back and began at its simplest, firstly creating a lecture about the Rados RDS 200, its uses within varied industries, what it detects, how to use it, its construction, etc.
“The second part was harder due to the massive subject matter that radiation covers. I created another lecture covering the basics of radiation. This included various types of radiation, dose rates, fire service procedures and a section covering Chernobyl and radiation levels around the disaster zone.
“The two sessions were delivered to the station followed by a short practical hands-on session using the Rados RDS 200 SIM and GMP-11-SIM beta contamination probe. The gamma simulation emitters were turned on and beta liquids and powders were used on food to enable the simulation detection equipment to show readings.
“This was the first time any of us had seen readings on the Rados RDS 200. With use of the dosage prompt card the firefighters could understand the levels of gamma radiation that they were receiving.
“With the GMP-11-SIM beta contamination probe attached, firefighters discovered which food items and drinks were contaminated. These combined sessions were a success with positive feedback and fire fighters now being comfortable with radiation readings and detection.
“The goal of delivering a session that gave a real understanding and hands on approach to radiation was achieved thanks to the RDS200 simulator. Now people had a better understanding of radiation and how to understand the readings on the RDS 200 we began to train using realistic scenario-based training.”
The simulator equipment was used to effect a variety of radiation safety training scenarios, as Smallcombe outlines:
Scenario 1 - Road Traffic Collision involving Radiation
“This was set up to simulate a broken container with a source of radiation inside. Using a directional emitter, EPD-MK2- SIM (personal dosimeters) and RDS 200 SIM, a van was parked and a car was put into position to simulate a rear collision.
“The car contained a casualty that had leg entrapment. The crew needed to release the casualty and make the area as safe as possible, whilst keeping crew exposure to a minimum and within a safe working limit.
“The training session was completed and we were surprised at how long a simple task had taken to achieve. The debrief was very thorough and points raised on how and why the training session had taken so long, and then to apply learning points to further scenarios/incidents.”
Scenario 2 - School laboratory accident
“This was set up within a building simulating a spillage of a radioactive substance. Using radioactive powder simulator, a RDS 200 and the GMP-11-SIM simulation Beta contamination probe, crews were called to the incident and would find that there was a walking wounded casualty within the building with contaminant on them [as well as] contaminant spilled within the building.
“This scenario enabled us to simulate wearing hazmat protective suits, source the radioactive substance, set up the decontamination process and fill out all correct paperwork whilst having hands on practical use of radiation detection equipment.”
“The results are spectacular: from the moment the equipment is turned on, the crews become totally immersed in the ‘reality’ of the exercise. Crews study the survey meter for readings and learn the importance of sweeping the area in front of them thoroughly at various heights to obtain a sense of how fast their personal dosimeter reading will increase at various dose rates.
“Careful positioning of the source can mimic columnar ionising radiation, creating differing levels of feedback. Depending on how the RDS-200 is used, this encourages a full sweeping motion. Crucially all this learning takes place autonomously by the crews as they complete the exercise.”
Scenario 3 - Finding safe routes
“A casualty was placed within a group of buildings and two radiation emitters were set up to simulate varying strengths and direction of radiation.
“Fire crews then used the RDS 200 SIM to gather readings, log and report on varying strengths so that the Incident Commander would be able to map out safe routes through the buildings and area.
“The equipment worked excellently for this style of training incident due to its varying strength settings and multi directional abilities.”
Scenario 4 - Hunt for the source
“Radiation emitters were placed in various places around the abandoned village and crews in pairs were then sent off with the RDS 200 SIM and EPD-MK2-SIM (personal dosimeters) to locate the source of radiation, report back its exact location and how close they could get before they would receive over their acceptable dose rate.”
Scenario 5 - Casualty has run away from the scene
“This session was designed to simulate a casualty covered with contaminant fleeing from the scene of a small radiation incident. Beta simulation radioactive contaminant powder was placed on various window sills, hand rails and flooring around an area of buildings.
“Teams had to find and then follow the trail to locate the lost casualty using the RDS 200 SIM and the GMP-11-SIMsimulation beta contamination probe.”
Scenario 6 - Basic ‘snatch rescue’ involving arrival in the appliance
“Basic scenarios were set up to simulate snatch rescue in various location and levels of buildings. Fire crews would drive towards the incident in the fire appliance and would start to receive radiation readings on the RDS 200 SIM.
“This was amusing to watch as fire appliances would casually drive down the road then stop all of a sudden and reverse back up the road!
“Big learning point – don’t just assume you are safe in the fire appliance. Positioning is very important. The distance that the emitters can transmit is impressive and allowed us to be very diverse in our training sessions.”
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service provides public safety information and prevention and protection programmes as well as emergency response cover for Mid and West Wales, employing over 1,400 members of staff across 58 fire stations and associated support functions.
The Service covers around 11,700 sq km (4,500 sq miles) – almost two thirds of the landmass of Wales.
In this case study, Dai Swann Head of Response for Pembrokeshire, describes the process of training for radiation incidents:
“The events of 9/11 led to a transformation in the way that UK emergency services and agencies respond to large-scale emergencies. New structures and practices ensure the UK’s resilience on every level against disruptive challenges through working with other stakeholders to anticipate, assess, prevent, prepare, respond, and recover.
“This is achieved through effective partnership engagement with key organisations and across regions. A well-equipped, well-trained and well-motivated Fire and Rescue Service is essential to the success of delivering resilience in England and Wales.
“Risk assessments have been undertaken to accommodate all possible scenarios that could warrant the need for a multi-agency emergency response. These assessments identified a key problem area in delivering effective training.
“For the vast majority of incidents the Fire Service responds to, it’s possible to replicate the risk in a controlled environment, allowing measured exposure to the risk and for crews to mitigate the risk, and resolve the incident safely.
“So how do we train for radiation incidents? Irrespective of the cause of the potential radiation, be it from a CBRN event or industrial accident, crews have immediate access to two key pieces of equipment in order to maintain their safety – and to identify the nature and extent of the risk: namely, the RADOS RDS-200Universal Survey Meter and the Thermo Scientific Electronic Personal Dosimeter Mk2.
“Crews are familiar with the operation of this equipment due to standard testing of equipment and traditional simulation training, but there was a gap in our preparedness.
“Whenever we exercised the instruments they would register background radiation, which is thankfully practically zero – exactly how we want things to be – but lacking authenticity for practical training.
“The only way to practically train the crews involved was getting them ‘on scene’ to calculate expected dose rates at given distances from a known source. Crews then deployed and simulated the monitoring of readings on both survey meter and personal dosimeters, with an instructor providing ‘exercise values’ as they completed the task.
“This training was critically flawed in so much as while crews practice their procedures, they rely on someone else to give them the key information to make their decisions – and learn not to rely on their instrumentation as it will never change values.
“So, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service purchased equipment from Argon Electronics to address this flaw.
“Crews are now able to simulate a whole range of scenarios with live data being displayed on their instrumentation. Prior to the start of the exercise, directing staff place a harmless source or contaminant where they wish the ‘radiation’ to be concentrated. Crews are briefed and respond according to laid-down procedures, and then prior to committing to the risk area, conduct site surveys using the training equipment.
“The key detail is that the training simulators are the identical units the crews will use on a live incident [but] have been modified to respond to the ‘source’ rather than actual radiation.
As Swann explains, the crews learn a variety of invaluable skills to prepare them for live incidents, including:
“It is well known that the most effective method of learning is under Live Incident conditions. This training provides genuine immersion training as realistic as an incident can be without the associated hazard.
“We have observed more effective monitoring techniques, better retention of information, and familiarity with radiation incident procedures – with crews trained this way over previous methods with considerably less ‘skill fade’ over time.
“We cover a relatively large geographical area and therefore it is unrealistic to bring all our operational staff to a central location to train. The outreach training that we provide adds to the realism – as training occurs at a venue local to the crews.
“The simulation equipment is simple enough in operation and functionality, so that with minimal training, regional directing staff can deploy the training in their area. By rotating training areas all crews can be trained within agreed timeframes.”
The Mid and West Wales Fire Service runs two main scenarios for its crews, as Swann outlines:
“A strong source is potentially compromised and we have been called to assist. Locally we use a scenario where a workman becomes unconscious while undertaking pipeline radiography. Depending on the scene, it may be possible to recover the casualty first, but it depends on what the instrumentation says is possible.”
Crews are required to:
“A delivery van has been involved in a road accident and its cargo has become compromised. A bystander has observed what appears to be a trefoil. Our crews are called on to rescue the trapped unconscious driver and to stabilise the situation prior to handover for recovery.”
Crews have to do everything as in Scenario One, but also:
“Scenario Two allows us to use the GMP 11 SIM Beta Probe. This can be used with either our training RDS 200 or an actual operational unit, enabling us to increase the size of our scenarios, with equipped crews committed to the scene and decontamination duties.
“The major factor with the GMP 11 SIM is that it detects actual powders and liquids (both harmless) that we can apply to an area or package – then crews can assess the effectiveness of their safe working and decontamination process in live time.
“Crews have been surprised how easy it is to contaminate the probe during use, and have realised how important it is to follow strict process and have excellent communication when decontaminating.
“This experience is priceless and crews visibly exercise differently as a consequence of this learning. Scenario Two would easily double as a CBRN incident and could be scaled up if necessary – with the GMP 11 SIM being used to confirm that mass decontamination has been successful.”
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Simulation equipment is not inexpensive. This is because it requires a complex set of hardware and software, developed over many years, in order to arrive at a realistic representation of a detection or monitoring device.
When compared to actual detection equipment, the demand for simulators tends to be relatively lower than the thousands or the millions. This lesser volume has a direct impact on the cost of production.
The return on investment in electronic simulators can be very easy to justify once you take into consideration the “whole life cost of ownership” including the mitigation of restrictions associated with the use of live sources and the associated ongoing administrative and source management/replacement costs.
With electronic simulators there is no need for a live source (which in the case of ionizing radiation is subject to strict regulatory controls.)
The cost of repairing simulators is also much less when compared with real detectors, which further contributes to reduced the lifetime costs.
So when weighing up price, it’s worth factoring in not only the initial cost of the equipment, but the reduction in ongoing maintenance expenses and the associated savings that can be made in staff time, administration and regulatory frustration.
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