Fires, heavy rain, winds and snow, and other natural disasters are the most likely situations where county residents should plan for emergencies. However, being prepared for an emergency can be valuable and can reduce uncertainty and concern in many types of situations. The county Office of Emergency Services compiled this information from several official sources, for your convenience.
The thought of an attack involving radiation can be very frightening. Turn on the radio or TV right away, to hear official information about the actual risk and how you can protect yourself.
Since September 11, 2001, Americans have become aware of the possibility of a terrorist attack involving radioactive materials. Public safety officials, including the military, law enforcement, and emergency medical and health professionals, are considering that possibility. They are investigating and planning many public safety measures.
In any terrorist attack, a primary goal is to create panic. A terrorist attack involving radiation is likely to be small in scale. It will cause fewer casualties if people refuse to panic and take simple steps to minimize their exposure to radiation.
A "dirty bomb"
A small nuclear weapon
At this time, experts believe terrorists probably do not possess the equipment and materials needed to create weapons capable of producing high enough levels of radiation to kill large numbers of people.
However, it is fairly simple to create of a "dirty bomb", which uses ordinary explosives to spread nonexplosive radiation materials normally used for military, medical or industrial purposes. The size of the bomb, the kind of radiation materials, and in some cases, the winds would help determine how severe the effect would be. Cleanup could also be long and complicated.
A terrorist radiological attack, such as a dirty bomb, is not the same as an attack with a nuclear bomb. A dirty bomb may kill mostly the people in the immediate area of the blast, but panic over fear of radiation and evacuation could create gridlock, prevent emergency response and make a bad situation much worse.
It is possible, but unlikely, that terrorists will use devices that deliver high doses of radiation to a small area. They are more likely to attempt to spread the radioactive material over large areas, hoping that it will induce panic and make a mess that will be time-consuming and expensive to clean up. Experts believe the result will likely be radiation doses that are too low to be lethal.
A smaller, low-yield nuclear device is also a possibility. If such a device were to be exploded, for example one equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT, most physical damage would come from the blast itself. Such a device would cause extensive damage but would not level a city. An electro-magnetic-pulse, commonly called an EMP, would likely cause disruption to electronic devices in the area. This would make modern communication very difficult and could affect transportation. Radiation would be a concern with a low yield nuclear device.
Taking responsible actions and avoiding panic help reduce the possibility of injury to you and your family, and allow trained emergency responders to do what's necessary following a terrorist attack.
Radiation: A Natural Phenomenon
We live with naturally-occurring background radiation every day. As radioactive materials such as radon and uranium decay, they release radiation. There are naturally occurring radioactive forms of potassium and carbon in our own bodies, and cosmic radiation from outer space penetrates our atmosphere. In the United States, the average person receives about 360 millirem (0.360 rem) of background radiation every year. About 20 percent comes from medical and other manmade sources. In some parts of the world, the background radiation is up to 50 times higher than in the US.
When radiation strikes our bodies, it can damage the DNA, which can sometimes lead to cancer. Fortunately, scientists have learned the cells in our bodies are usually able to repair damage done by larger doses of radiation than Americans usually receive. Communities with background radiation levels higher than the national average do not have higher cancer rates.
Radiation cannot be seen, smelled, felt or tasted. It must be detected through a radiological testing device, like a Geiger counter.
What Is Radiation and How Does It Interact with Materials?
There are many types of radiation including visible radiation (light), radio waves, and ultraviolet radiation. Ionizing radiation comes from radioactive materials, so-called because of the way it affects atoms in the materials it strikes. The radiation typically knocks an electron out of its orbit, and the remaining atom, which is missing an electron, is called an ion. The amount of damage done by ionizing radiation depends on how much energy the radiation has, i.e. how many ions it can form.
As radiation passes through air, water, buildings, or any other material, it interacts with atoms in those materials. Each time the radiation interacts with an atom, it uses up some of its energy to form an ion. Eventually, the radiation's energy is gone, and it can no longer do any damage. The rem is the unit of measure for the damage ionizing radiation does to living tissue.
Protection from Ionizing Radiation You can protect yourself from ionizing radiation through shielding, by reducing the time you are near the source, or by increasing the distance between you and the source of radiation.
These are the different types of radioactive particles:
- Alpha particles - These are emitted by plutonium, uranium and radium, travel only one to two inches through air and are stopped by clothing, paper or skin. Danger would come from getting them inside your body.
- Beta particles - These come from radioactive compounds, nuclear fuel or nuclear fallout, can be stopped by thick clothing, aluminum, plastic or glass. Danger would come from getting them inside your body.
- Gamma rays - These are high energy, and are the primary cause of radiation sickness. They can be stopped or decreased by very dense material such as earth, concrete, steel or lead. They can be produced as a byproduct of a nuclear weapon explosion or from a nuclear reactor meltdown. X-rays are gamma rays that are produced in a different way.
- Neutrons - These are the result of a nuclear weapon explosion, are produced by detonating a nuclear device, or come from the nuclear reaction from a nuclear reactor core. They can be slowed or stopped by materials such as water, paraffin or plastic. They can travel several hundred feet through the air, and also activate other materials. For example, exposure to neutrons can make structural steel in a building give off its own radiation.
How Does Radiation Affect Your Body?
The level of radiation that can cause radiation sickness is about 100 rem or more in a short burst, and a dose of about 400-500 rem will prove fatal to 50% of the population, without medical treatment. Symptoms of acute radiation exposure are burns of the skin, vomiting and diarrhea. A dose of 1,000 rem is always fatal. However, even 100 rem is far more radiation exposure than is likely to result from the use of a terrorist's radiological weapon.
Exposure to the lower levels of radiation from a terrorist attack may cause an increased risk of cancer later in life. In theory, the probability of developing cancer depends on how much radiation you received. Even so, many scientific studies have shown that people exposed to job-related or natural radiation at levels comparable to those expected in a radiological attack have not had increased rates of cancer. While it is smart to minimize your radiation dose, do not risk serious injury from other hazards while trying to reduce an already small radiation dose.
Types of Radiation Exposure External irradiation
happens when all or part of your body is exposed to penetrating radiation from an external source, such as a chest x-ray. The radiation can be absorbed or can pass through you. You will not become radioactive.
Irradiation of your body is not considered a medical emergency even if the amount of radiation received is high.
Contamination means that radioactive materials such as gases, liquids or solids are released into the environment and get on you. Contamination can be deposited inside your body if you breathe or eat contaminated material, or through a wound.
Incorporation means the radioactive materials are taken into your body cells, tissues or target organs, such as your bones, liver, thyroid or kidney. You must have internal contamination for incorporation to occur.
Taking potassium iodide is often suggested to help keep radioactive iodine from being absorbed into your thyroid gland should you be near a nuclear reactor incident. It must be taken within about 4 hours of exposure, and should be considered an additional protection where evacuation is not feasible. Protection lasts about 24 hours.
Protecting Yourself and Your Family
- Stay calm. The attacker hopes to create terror. Your goal is to minimize danger to yourself and others. It is highly unlikely that radioactive material spread over a wide area will produce a large enough dose to cause radiation sickness or death. Remain calm and avoid actions such as pushing, shoving, darting across highways, running down stairs, or driving aggressively. Those actions are more likely than radiation to injure or kill you or others.
- Shield yourself from radiation. Glass, concrete, metal, and other building materials will help to shield you from radiation. If you are outdoors, move inside.
- Wash and change your clothes. If you have been directly exposed to radioactive materials, you should take a shower as soon as possible. Removing your outer clothing and washing your hair and exposed skin removes 95% of the contamination. Package any contaminated clothes or other articles in a sealed plastic trash bag. Put the bag in a room people will not be using.
- Minimize the chance of inhaling or consuming radioactive materials. If you are outdoors, breathe through a folded handkerchief or other piece of cloth to help filter radioactive particles. If you are indoors, close the windows and put the ventilation system on recycled air. Do not eat or drink anything that may have radioactive material on it, or which may have been exposed to radioactive material.
- Increase the distance between you and the source of radiation. If you are in the immediate area of a radiological attack (within hundreds of feet), move away from the explosion and the source of radiation. A radiation dose drops off quickly with distance. If you double your distance from a radiation source, the radiation dose will drop by 75%.
- If you are not close to the explosion, stay inside where the shielding reduces your exposure and leave the roadways clear for the emergency-response professionals. Evacuate in an orderly manner if instructed to do so.
- Evacuate in an orderly manner when instructed to do so.
What Trained Emergency Response Personnel Will Do in Case of an Attack Using Radioactive Materials.
- Identify the nature and severity of the problem. Measure contamination and track changes.
- Map the boundaries of the affected areas and set up barriers to show where the contamination is.
- Move people out of the area, especially those in the most contaminated zones, or ask people to "shelter-in-place."
- Survey and decontaminate people as necessary
- Monitor food and water for radioactive contamination and remove contaminated products.
- Start to clean up the contamination, with the help of state and federal agencies.
Help Create an Orderly Response to Protect Yourself and Others.
- Avoid panic. Radiological terrorism is serious, and can create great disruption and inconvenience, but it is not likely to be life-threatening. The single best thing you can do is to keep your head and to act in a calm and orderly manner.
- Review and follow the guidelines in this brochure. Follow instructions given to you by trained emergency response personnel.
- Recognize that an attack is a public disaster situation. Emergency response resources will be used where they are most needed. Be prepared to cope with disruptions in your normal life.
- Stockpile water, food, blankets, flashlights, a battery operated radio and first aid supplies, just as you would do cope with a severe winter storm, power outage or other emergency. Contact the American Red Cross for a Family Disaster Planning Guide.
For More Information
- During or following any emergency, turn on your radio or television. Designated emergency broadcast stations are:
- AM 950 KAHI (mid-county area)
- AM 1530 KFBK (strong regional station, Roseville to Donner Summit)
- AM 830 KNCO (mid-county area)
- AM 1490 KOWL and FM 93.9 (Tahoe area)
- AM 780 KOH (Reno area)
- Other radio and television stations will also be given emergency information for broadcast.
- Do not call 9-1-1 except to report an emergency.
- The Office of Emergency Services' public information line, 530-886-5310, will be staffed, or will direct you to other information. They will post further information on the County Web site, as it becomes available.
This information was produced by the Placer County Operational Area Office of Emergency Services and was written with assistance, information and cooperation from the following:
- Audeen Fentiman, Ph.D., Chairman, Dept. of Nuclear Engineering, Ohio State University
- P. Andrew Karam, Ph.D., CHP (Certified Health Physicist) Radiation Safety Officer, University of Rochester Health Physics Society
- U.S. Army Domestic Preparedness Training Program - Hazmat Technician Course, Module 6, Radiological Materials
- Governor's Office of Emergency Services and California Specialized Training Institute
- Physics Department, Idaho State University
- Placer County Operational Area Office of Emergency Service - 530-886-5300, www.placer.ca.gov/emergency