A nuclear or radiological emergency presents complex public health, environmental and engineering challenges. A constant flow of detailed, reliable information is indispensable to be able to marshal and coordinate the needed response which includes the prompt mobilisation and dispatch of specialised human and equipment resources, as requested. The global focal point for such coordination and information exchange is the IAEA's Incident and Emergency Centre, or IEC. It is the IEC's task to inform many different official designated actors around the world as quickly as possible whenever a nuclear or radiological emergency occurs. A sustained and reliable information flow is one of the most important resources in effective incident and emergency response.
One of the IEC's tasks is to develop and improve the communication and coordination systems that deliver authenticated and verified information to the emergency responders who need it. During the emergency response to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident, the IEC launched a new, secure web-based communications platform, the Unified System for Information Exchange on Incidents and Emergencies, or USIE. The new system, which had been in development since 2009, replaces two existing communication systems, thus simplifying the emergency information exchange.
"The new USIE system delivers a solution the emergency response community needed and requested from the IAEA," said Denis Flory, IAEA Deputy Director General for Nuclear Safety and Security. "When the IAEA's Member States respond to a nuclear incident or emergency, they need a single, secure, straight-forward system that easily adapts to their needs. That is exactly what USIE does."
Like its predecessor systems, USIE is a secure website to which registered users have access. Instead of monitoring two separate systems that previously reported on different types of incidents, users now receive alerts from the new USIE system when new information is issued about any type of incident, ranging from a lost radioactive source to a full-scale nuclear emergency.
The platform delivers alerts, based upon the user's preferences, via text messages delivered to a mobile device, or via email, or via fax. The system tracks multiple events, issuing information that has been authenticated by the country reporting an accident or incident. The platform meets demanding security standards thus offering its users the assurance that the information received is reliable.
Preparedness is an essential prerequisite for effective nuclear emergency management. International exercises are held systematically to determine whether the national systems in place are prepared and can respond swiftly and effectively. The USIE system is designed to support such exercises.
"For the first time, this simple-to-use and effective system streamlines mechanisms for reporting and sharing information about incidents and emergencies in a secure information exchange channel," said Elena Buglova, the Head of the IAEA's Incident and Emergency Centre. This innovation strengthens international coordination, she noted, "which will improve the speed and effectiveness of the global response to nuclear and radiological emergencies of all types."
Until the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, there was no information exchange system. Immediately following that accident, the IAEA's Member States negotiated the so-called Emergency Conventions to ensure that in the event of a nuclear accident, the country that suffers an accident would issue timely, authenticated information, while the Member States that could field technical support, would do so in a coordinated fashion, if such support is requested by the State concerned.
When concerns regarding the malicious use of nuclear or radioactive materials grew, the IAEA established the IEC in 2005 to serve as a global focal point for emergency preparedness and response to nuclear and radiological incidents and emergencies.
The IEC develops standards, guidelines and tools like USIE. The IEC staff provide support, training, global event reporting, information exchange and around-the-clock assistance to Member States dealing with nuclear and radiological events. Fundamentally, the IEC is a global coordinator for international expertise from the IAEA, as well as from other international organizations, such as the FAO, WHO, or WMO.
Before USIE's launch in June 2011, two secure websites were operated to provide emergency and support information: The Emergency Notification and Assistance Convention Website, or ENAC, was set up to exchange information on nuclear accidents or radiological emergencies. The Nuclear Event Web-based System, or NEWS, is a joint project of the IAEA, OECD/NEA and World Association of Nuclear Operators that provides authoritative information on nuclear and radiological events, using the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, or INES.