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New IAEA Operations Manual for Stronger Global Emergency Preparedness and Response

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In case of a nuclear or radiological emergency, what do national authorities need to do to respond and how quickly? How do they communicate with other countries’ emergency responders and the IAEA when every second counts? A new and updated Operations Manual provides the answers to these and other questions that arise in emergency response.

The Operations Manual for Incident and Emergency Communication describes in detail the steps that authorities and international organizations need to take to notify other countries and the IAEA of an event and how to request help during a nuclear or radiological emergency. Information in the manual applies to all countries and relevant international organizations and is of particular importance to those that have signed the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident (‘Early Notification Convention’) and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency (‘Assistance Convention’), which represent approximately three quarters of the IAEA’s 171 Member States.

“Several developments have led to modifying existing arrangements since the last edition of the Operations Manual was issued in 2012,” said Kilian Smith, Response and Assistance Network Officer at the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre. “This includes changes due to the lessons identified in exchanging information during incidents, emergencies and exercises,  and updates to the Unified System for Information Exchange in Incidents and Emergencies (USIE).”  

Notification and assistance

The Early Notification Convention covers different types of emergencies. It foresees obligatory notification of the IAEA and the affected States, as well as voluntary reporting, depending on the characteristics of the emergency.

Countries used standardized reporting forms to prevent ambiguity, and these forms have now been fully revised. The new and updated Manual and its Attachments outline the information national authorities need to convey to other countries and international organizations via the new forms, which cover the emergency’s time, location, nature and other data needed to assess the consequences of the radioactive release. (One of these attachments, which contains contact details, is not available to the public online.)

“The Operations Manual gives countries and international organizations an outlined process: How quickly should they be contacting us? How long should they wait for our response? What can they do next?” Kilian said, adding that, States are encouraged to contact the IAEA for emergencies that do not have an impact on another country — although they are not obliged to do so.

At the same time, by signing the Assistance Convention, countries and international organizations confirm they will cooperate in facilitating prompt assistance to minimize consequences and to protect life, property and the environment from the effects of radioactive releases in the event of nuclear accidents or radiological emergencies.

States and international organizations that signed the Assistance Convention need to inform the Agency about the experts, equipment, and materials they may be able to provide to a country that requests assistance.  

“Member States need to know how they can request or offer assistance. In an emergency, they need to know how they reach us, by phone, email or fax? The Operations Manual goes into that detail,” Kilian said.

The Manual and its Attachments specify communication channels and timelines to follow. For instance, the Attachments include information on all the official State and relevant international organizations emergency contact points — staff who have been trained on emergency preparedness and response and who have been officially designated  by national authorities and relevant international organizations to be contacted in case of a nuclear or radiological emergency. This information included in the Operations Manual, Kilian added, restricted to Member States and relevant international organizations, is not available to the general public to ensure that these channels remain exclusively for use in an emergency response.

Scope of the Manuals

The Operations Manual for Incident and Emergency Communication (EPR-IEComm) sets out to improve the global exchange of information in nuclear or radiological emergencies. It provides information that countries and relevant international organizations can use to develop effective, operational arrangements to interact with each other and with the IAEA.

As an attachment to the EPR-IEComm, the International Radiation Monitoring Information System (IRMIS) User Manual provides an overview of IRMIS and includes step-by-step guidance on how to use it. Another attachment, the International Radiological Information Exchange (IRIX) Format, provides a reference description of the IRIX format, which is an information structure and machine-readable format in Extensible Markup Language (XML) developed to carry the different types of information and data that are of relevance when responding to nuclear or radiological emergencies.

All these publications are available online  and in hard copy upon request.

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