Media cooperation will be critical in any kind of radiation event. As stated previously, the mere mention of radiation is enough to cause grave concerns (no pun intended). The outcry over the way the incident at Three Mile Island was handled is an excellent example. Getting all types of media (radio, television and print) on your side from the beginning is paramount. The way to do this is by being up front with the media from the start. This can be accomplished by holding regularly scheduled press briefings. This was very effective in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. Remember, first responders want the proper information relayed to the public, not sensationalized information designed to enhance media ratings. The best way to do this is to cooperate as much as possible with media requests for information and interviews from the start. In a case such as this, the media can be a trusted ally in helping to protect the public.
The final response implication may the most critical, that of long term recovery. Unlike chemical spills, where decontamination activities can return an area to pre-spill conditions relatively quickly, radioactive contamination and fallout may render areas uninhabitable for months or years. This may be acceptable for out of the way locations such as the Nevada Test Site, but it is unacceptable for most any other location. Consider if you will the detonation of a small nuclear weapon on Wall Street. With stock trading ground to a halt and financial records in disarray, the possibilities boggle the mind. It is one thing to decontaminate people, equipment and vehicles, but how would a jurisdiction decontaminate several square blocks or high-rise buildings? Real estate values would plummet. Officials and radiation specialists could talk until they were blue in the face about how safe the area was and point to their atmospheric monitoring results, but would that be enough to make a population believe them?
Long term monitoring of all victims and response personnel would also have to occur. To this day, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are being medically monitored as are their children and grandchildren. The same situation is being faced today by the survivors of 9/11 with what is being commonly referred to as "WTC Cough". No one knows what the long term implications will be from that day. We have 60 years of data on what the medical complications are arising from exposure to high levels of radioactivity. The costs of medical monitoring and treatment for what may be literally thousands of victims and responders would be astronomical.
The chances of a large scale radioactive event occurring in any jurisdiction are relatively small. The chances of a small scale radioactive event occurring in the same jurisdiction are more likely. Compared to the possibly of other hazardous materials events, radiation incidents are of the "high risk, low probability" category. Preparing for the small scale events may make the response to the large scale event just that much easier. Failures of imagination can no longer be accepted. The events of September 11, 2001 will forever remind us of that.
Mark Schmitt began his fire service career in 1992 as a volunteer firefighter with the Rivera Beach Volunteer Fire Company in Anne Arundel County, Maryland while pursuing a degree in Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland College Park. After volunteering for three years, he decided a career change was in order and opted for becoming a full-time firefighter instead. After filing applications with several departments, he was hired by the Greensboro Fire Department in North Carolina and completed Recruit School in October 1997.
Upon completion of Recruit School, he was assigned to Engine 15 for 18 months until he was assigned to Truck 11 of the Hazardous Materials Team in April 1999 after being promoted to Firefighter II. Hazardous Materials Team assignments have included tours with Engine 19 and Quint 11, Engine 15 and Engine 11. Mark is also a member of North Carolina's Hazardous Materials Regional Response Team 5 (RRT 5), which provides hazardous materials response capabilities for 14 counties in central North Carolina. RRT 5 also responds statewide if required for large hazardous materials emergencies and natural disasters.
Weapons of Mass Destruction are his main area of interest. He has attended numerous WMD related courses in Socorro, NM, Ft. McClellan, AL, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, Elko, NV, Dugway Proving Ground, UT and Mercury, NV. He also serves on several committees relating to hazardous materials including North Carolina's Technical Advisory Group for the Hazardous Materials Regional Response Teams and the Greensboro Fire Department's Hazardous Materials Training Committee. Other areas of interest include chemical research and rail cars. Mark also serves as the Lead Instructor for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Hazardous Materials Operations for the Greensboro Fire Department's Recruit Training Academy.