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Help for "First Responders" to Nuclear or Radiological Emergencies

Paramedics are among the "first responders" to an emergency. The IAEA has developed guidance for emergency personnel responding to a nuclear or radiological emergency. (Photo: T. McKenna/IAEA)

When an emergency hits, the first people on the scene - called "First Responders" - are local services, including medical, law enforcement, and fire brigades. They have important roles in the early response to a radiological or other kind of emergency. What they do in the first few hours can save lives.

Through new web pages and a series of publications, the IAEA - through its Department of Nuclear Safety and Security - is issuing guidance to emergency response teams that could be called to the front lines of a nuclear or radiological incident or accident, and for national officials backing-up the early response.

"Responders generally have no experience with radiation emergencies as they are very rare", says Warren Stern, who heads the IAEA´s Incident & Emergency Centre (IEC). "They can benefit a lot from practical guidance about what´s known about radiation, and how to deal with accidents and incidents involving nuclear or radioactive materials."

The new web pages and reports cover different types of emergencies. They include uncontrolled dangerous radioactive sources; misuse of dangerous industrial and medical sources; public exposures and contamination from unknown origins; serious overexposures; malicious threats/acts; and transport emergencies. Guidance includes helping first responders to determine the existence of or extent of a radiological emergency, and to take the corresponding correct actions for protecting people and the environment.

See Story Resources to access the new web pages and the latest reports.


  • Even very low levels of radiation, that pose no significant risk, can be detected rapidly with simple, commonly available instruments.
  • Radioactive materials can cause radiation exposure even when persons are not in contact with them.
  • The health effects resulting from radiation exposure may not appear for days, weeks or even years.
  • The public, media and responders often have an exaggerated fear of radiation.
Last update: 27 Jul 2017

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