Who Does What in an Emergency Involving Radiation?

The federal government, under the National Response Framework, plans for – and practices – responding to all kinds of possible emergencies. Under the framework, agencies are tasked with doing things based on their usual area of expertise and responsibility. It’s a system that works well. But it can be somewhat confusing for the public to know “who does what” during an emergency – especially an emergency that involves radiation.

If an emergency involves a nuclear facility that is licensed by the NRC, we are charged with heading the federal government’s “technical response.” That means our nuclear experts and officials work directly with the facility operator to make sure the incident is ended as quickly as possible, and that the communities and environment around the site are protected. Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) works with officials responsible for the communities near the incident to make sure their emergency response is appropriate, and offers help if needed.

Who is monitoring the radiation?

Monitoring is done by the Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and interagency teams such as the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center (FRMAC). The FRMAC is an important part of the radiation monitoring process. This team monitors, samples and assesses radiation in the United States. The FRMAC is led by the DOE initially, and then the EPA for site cleanup efforts. Members of this team come from many agencies, including DOE, EPA, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A different team, the Advisory Team for Environment, Food, and Health, uses this radiation information to give advice and recommendations related to the environment, food, health and agricultural animals (especially dairy cows). This team includes experts from the EPA, Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers of Disease Control.

Other federal agencies and the Department of Defense are responsible for other parts of a radiological emergency response, too. While it may seem like an “alphabet soup” of responders, what it really means is the U.S. has a plan that puts the right experts in the right place to do what they do best on behalf of the American people. The NRC is proud to be part of that response.

Sara Mroz
Emergency Preparedness Specialist
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