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First Responders in Cyprus Readied for Radiological Emergencies

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Organized across three identical sessions to accommodate their shift schedule, the training events were attended by ambulance crew members of the Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) of the Cyprus Ambulance Service. (Photo: Dialogos News Cyprus)

When a radiological incident occurs, ambulances, police officers and fire fighters are often the first to reach the scene. Time is a critical factor in a radiological emergency and the actions taken by first responders in the minutes and hours following an incident can determine how minimal or extensive its impacts become.

By managing the medical response, allocating evacuation routes or securing forensic evidence, first responders have a unique role to play in protecting the public. In Cyprus, the IAEA has helped prepare first responders for radiological emergencies with precise skills and knowledge to effectively protect themselves, while responding to a crisis.

“Radiological emergencies can happen anywhere and can be triggered by different causes,” said Ramon De la Vega, an IAEA Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, to ambulance crew members taking part in a recently completed IAEA virtual training course. Assigned to their country’s Hazardous Area Response Team (HART), these first responders were instructed in the basic principles and best practices of radiation protection and emergency response over three, week-long sessions in January 2021.

“A prompt and effective response is essential to protecting the public against the hazard of radiation exposure stemming from these events. First responders play a key role in this response,” explained De la Vega.  

A recently completed series, the IAEA-supported virtual training events were organized through a technical cooperation project and held in cooperation with the Cyprus Ambulance Service. Designed for ambulance crews working for the Cyprus Ambulance Service’s HART, the course covered the essential first steps in responding to a radiological emergency.

Tailored training for difficult times

10 ambulance crew members attended the first session, while 13 and 11 additional medical first responders from the HART attended the second and third sessions respectively. (Photo: Cyprus Ambulance Service)

To accommodate the working schedule of the ambulance staff, who worked in double shifts during this course, three sessions were organized — with the inaugural virtual training event held from 11 to 15 January followed by two more sessions in late January.

Beginning with a broad overview of relevant concepts and general on-scene guidance, the training courses explored the radiation protection principles which apply to all first responders, and the details on the specific functions and duties of ambulance crew and medical technicians.

“This was the first IEC virtual training course on First Responders conducted in Cyprus for the Ambulance Service,” said Stacey Horvitz, an Associate Emergency Preparedness Officer in the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC). “Participants were able to learn not only the theoretical aspects of responses to nuclear or radiological emergencies, but they were also engaged in practical virtual sessions that enabled them to enhance their capabilities in various reality-based scenarios on first response,” she said.

The participants learned how best to assign duties and allocate resources under moments of extreme pressure. They were briefed on basic hazards they might face and how best to protect themselves and those at the scene affected by radiation. The training also included a series of tabletop scenarios for medical personnel and response officials, simulating emergency scenarios that required both quick reactions and close coordination to address.

The training course was developed on the basis of the recently-revised Manual of First Responders to a Radiological Emergency, an IAEA publication first released in 2006. The revised edition reflects the latest technical guidance related to radiological emergencies and is expected to become publicly available in the first quarter of 2021.

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