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Put to the Test: Botswana Tests its Emergency Preparedness as the Region Watches

18 December 2015
Under the auspices of an ongoing technical cooperation (TC) project, and with the support of the European Commission (EC) and the Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC), IAEA experts and Member State representatives from the Africa region observed a national emergency preparedness exercise conducted in Gaborone by the Government of Botswana. Designed to test the effectiveness of emergency response plans and procedures, the exercise was carried out by Botswana's Radiation Protection Inspectorate (BRPI). 23 representatives from African Member States travelled to Gaborone to observe the national exercise which was preceded by two days of lectures on exercise preparation, conduct and evaluation. By monitoring the exercise and the Botswanan first responders as they react to an unfolding emergency situation, the observers will be poised to better prepare, conduct and evaluate their own national exercises, and subsequently amend their EPR procedures. The exercise began with a simulated motor vehicle accident. A Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) carrying three passengers crashed into a van transporting a sealed radioactive source. The collision ejected the source from the vehicle and damaged its protective container. Volunteer actors and make-up specialists provided an added level of authenticity to the emergency simulation. The more realistic the exercise, the more effectively it will test real-world preparedness measures. After emerging from his damaged vehicle, the licensed transporter investigates the scene and contacts both police and medical authorities. Within moments, Botswanan national police arrive to secure and control the sceneInternational observers watch as the exercise unfolds. In order to limit exposures to the unsealed radioactive source, police officials establish a cordon, preventing onlookers from compromising the scene or endangering themselves. Aware of the situation and sensitive to the risks posed by ionizing radiation, a police officer charged with managing the crime scene and collecting conventional evidence dons his protective gear. In accordance with the national plan, first responders from many agencies responded to the scene, including firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical service (EMS) personnel. Emergency medical technicians arrive at the scene of the collision, prepared to treat the injured passengers and any nearby pedestrians exposed to the radioactive source. The driver of the SUV is evacuated from the scene by EMS personnel, allowing radiation protection experts to recover the radioactive source.Finally, a make-shift decontamination area is built. Experts from the Botswana Radiation Protection Inspectorate (BRPI) subsequently isolated the unsealed source, in addition to any objects contaminated over the course of the accident, inside the decontamination area.
At the conclusion of the exercise, the radioactive source was recovered and moved to a safe disposal facility. The observing regional experts drew lessons and best practices from the helpful example provided by their Botswanan counterparts. These lessons will help officials to update and strengthen emergency preparedness and response plans in their respective countries.


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