For 26 hours, from 20 to 21 November 2013, the tension was high in emergency operations centres in 57 States and nine international organizations participating in the "Bab Al Maghrib" exercise to test their response to simulated dirty bomb attacks.
The simulated "explosions" took place in the port of Tanger Med and Marrakech medina in Morocco. They "triggered" a number of serious implications: "actual" for few States, "potential" for some and "perceived" for many. Issues addressed during the exercise were connected to a radioactive release into the atmosphere, medical response and public health, security, transparent public communications, industry and tourism and commerce, in particular import and export of goods.
"This exercise provided an excellent opportunity to test information sharing with Member States and our coordination with other international organisations. In addition, we tested the extended capabilities of the IAEA Incident and Emergency System to assess the situation, and the relevance of measures taken by Member States in comparison to our Safety and Security standards and guidance," said IAEA Deputy Director General Denis Flory, Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security.
Some immediate conclusions were drawn: the collaboration of security and safety authorities in States needs to be improved and communication with the public has to be transparent, objective and easily understandable while protecting sensitive information - a challenging balance to achieve.
In the coming weeks, feedback from participating Member States and international organizations will be compiled by the IAEA and become part of a comprehensive report to be used to strengthen national and international preparedness to respond to similar emergencies.
Although the lessons emerging from the "Bab Al Maghrib" exercise are based on the response to simulated dirty bomb explosions, many are also applicable to other types of nuclear and radiological emergencies.
In this video, the Head of the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC), Elena Buglova, explains how this type of global exercise increases nuclear safety and security.