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Boosting Preparedness and Response Through Emergency Drills

IAEA Spotlights the "Bab Al Maghrib" Level 3 Convention Exercise

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Elena Buglova, Head of the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre, welcomes the meeting attendees to the IAEA General Conference side event highlighting the ConvEx-3 (2013) emergency exercise. (Photo: N. Jawerth/IAEA)

Time is ticking and the pressure is on. An emergency is often a high-stress situation where quick decision-making is critical. Being well prepared in advance can substantially improve the response.

Emergency preparedness activities are carried out in different ways. Among those are emergency exercises, which take participants through different emergency scenarios in order to ensure essential skills, expertise and knowledge are in place and are being practiced. This in turn helps to ensure that if a real-life emergency occurs, the response procedures are swiftly handled and responders are well-prepared and organized to take the necessary prompt actions.

In November 2013, an emergency exercise on the response to a radiological emergency triggered by the explosion of a "dirty bomb", or radiological dispersal device, was organized by the IAEA and hosted by Morocco. Fifty-eight States and ten international organizations took part in this Level 3 Convention Exercise (ConvEx-3).

A ConvEx-3 exercise is the highest and most complex level emergency exercise conducted by the IAEA every three to five years. It is designed to test national and international preparedness for responding to a severe nuclear or radiological emergency and identify emergency preparedness and response (EPR) areas requiring improvements.

ConvEx-3 (2013) — codenamed "Bab Al Maghrib" — was the first time that this  type of  exercise offered an opportunity to evaluate the response to a severe radiological emergency triggered by a nuclear security event. The exercise identified areas of EPR systems that need further improvements, lessons learned, as well as best practices.

To spotlight the Bab Al Maghrib ConvEx-3 (2013) and review the lessons learned from the exercise, an event was held at the IAEA on 23 September 2014 on the periphery of the 58th IAEA General Conference. The meeting focused on major challenges in responding to a radiological emergency caused by a nuclear security event(s); interfaces between nuclear security and nuclear safety in emergency response; lessons learned in this exercise; and international coordination and cooperation in response to a radiological or nuclear emergency.

In his opening remarks, the Permanent Representative of Morocco to the IAEA, Ali El Mhamdi, said that the exercise “shows how the IAEA aids Member States, and how international organizations have responded and how they all worked together in such events.”

Underscoring the important outputs of such exercises, Khammar Mrabit, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Security said that “a good exercise is not one where everything goes well, but where many good lessons are learned,” adding that “while nuclear security is a responsibility that rests with the State, the Agency has been and will continue to provide assistance to its Member States.”

Throughout the Bab Al Maghrib exercise, the active involvement of high-level officials of Morocco, in collaboration with the Agency’s senior management, contributed to conveying the vital importance of performing such exercises. Similarly, the active involvement of relevant international organizations (including INTERPOL and Europol), information sharing, coordination of response and sharing public updates among press officers of these organizations, contributed to a harmonized international response and consistent public information.

Looking toward the future, Elena Buglova, Head of the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC), underscored the importance of these emergency exercises and encouraged the meeting attendees to provide their “thoughts on and potential hosting for the next ConvEx-3 exercise, which is scheduled to take place in 2017.”

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