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A Female Perspective: Emergency Responders at the IAEA

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Women at the IAEA volunteer to acquire and maintain emergency response certification in the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency System (Photo: IAEA)

Women at the IAEA volunteer to acquire and maintain emergency response certification in the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency System. (Photo: IAEA)

They wear different coloured vests, have diverse backgrounds and are shaped by their unique experiences. One common goal unites them: to respond effectively to a nuclear or radiological incident or emergency. To mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the IAEA commemorates the female emergency responders in its Incident and Emergency System (IES) and celebrates their contribution in this field.

“In emergency preparedness and response we need  a broad range of disciplines,” highlighted Elena Buglova, Head of the Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC). “That’s why I encourage young women professionals to challenge themselves in new areas and take on increasingly difficult tasks to gain experience and grow in problem solving. This supports our emergency response and women’s professional advancement,” she added.

In an emergency response, the IES responders implement specific IAEA response roles: notify designated counterparts and exchange official information; assess potential emergency consequences and provide prognoses of the possible progression of the emergency; inform the public; provide assistance; and coordinate the inter-agency response. Women with diverse professional backgrounds are actively engaged in all these varied tasks.

Almost half of nearly 200 IES responders are women. Around a quarter of them are part of the technical team, whose tasks include assessing the causes, the response measures and the probable evolution of a nuclear or radiological emergency, as well as verifying technical information received during the emergency. Globally, according to UNESCO, women continue to be underrepresented in fields that contribute to these important tasks.

“I strongly believe that good preparation leads to a good outcome and that we need many highly qualified women to prepare for potential radiological emergencies,” said Debbie Gilley, a Radiation Safety Specialist in the IAEA’s IES.

Seize the opportunity: a call for women and girls in science

To inspire all the women and girls working or planning to work in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) we mark this day by collecting messages from women who are part of the IAEA’s IES.

“There is no limit to what you can reach. The strength to reach your highest goals lies within you. Just step out and try,” said Nadia Nammari, a Logistics Support Officer in the IES, who manages staffing for response positions and ensures that experts can travel into the field quickly and safely in case assistance missions take place.

Muzna Assi, who works as a Radiation Safety Specialist in the IES, is aware of the need to bring more women on board: “We are living in the era of technology. Women have devoted a lot to reach a considerable level of recognition around the globe. The journey continues and you are the future that you create. If you want to be influential in your societies, a technical profession is a means to cope with change, face challenges and solve difficulties in different areas. We have succeeded and we need every single young woman to keep up the good work.”

 “If you want to grow, you have to get out of your comfort zone,” said Michaela Ovanes, who serves as a Nuclear Installation Specialist in the IES.  “So, don’t let fears and worries about obstacles, biases and stereotypes diminish your self-worth and limit what you think you can achieve. Find something you’re good at and fits your aspirations, seize the opportunities and go for it. Time, hard work and determination will prove you right.” Ovanes verifies technical details and assesses emergency conditions at nuclear power plants and nuclear fuel facilities.

Background

The IES covers the IAEA’s emergency preparedness and response arrangements to nuclear and radiological incidents and emergencies regardless of whether they arise from an accident, negligence or deliberate act. The IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) serves as the Agency's focal point for emergency preparedness and response and as custodian of the IES.

IES responders must fulfil annual training requirements that include classroom training, hands-on practice, and full-scale exercises that simulate nuclear or radiological incidents or emergencies.

The IAEA is committed to gender equality. It is carrying out initiatives for gender balance among its professional staff and senior management and is working closely with Member States in the identification of women candidates. Outreach engages women experts in the nuclear field and serves to inspire younger generations to explore educational and professional opportunities in science and technology. IAEA staff and national counterparts are encouraged to use a gender perspective when designing and implementing IAEA projects.

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