James Blumenstock, MA
William Stephens, MS
Michael Heumann, MPH, MA
Adela Salame-Alfie, PhD
What is the National Alliance for Radiation Readiness (NARR)? It’s the voice of health in radiological preparedness! It’s a new and growing coalition, striving to improve the nation’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a radiological event. Wednesday’s session about the NARR was an energetic discussion of the past, present, and future.
Adela Salame-Alfie, PhD, New York Department of Health, presented the evolution of the NARR. It grew with recognition by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) need for better coordination following the 2006 Polonium-210 Russian spy poisoning incident to the 2008–2009 discussions among public health association members about priorities and gaps in t he field and the need for a coalition.
Jim Blumenstock, MA, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), focused on the present—how the organizations that currently make-up the NARR (American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Association of Public Health Laboratories, ASTHO, Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors, Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, Health Physics Society, National Association of County and City Health Officials, National Disaster Life Support Foundation, National Emergency Management Association) are working together. The NARR is developing tools, improving communication, and raising awareness of radiological issues.
Focused on the present, but with an eye toward the future, Michael Heumann, MPH, MA, Oregon Public Health Division, gave the crowd a sobering assessment of the current state of radiological preparedness. Results of the 2010 CSTE membership survey indicated that in nearly every measure of public health capacity and capability, the nation is poorly prepared to respond to a major radiation event. For example, a fundamental step of preparedness, the development of response plans, has not occurred in 45 percent of responding states.
Not all is bleak, however. Response was better related to those who have exercised a dirty bomb scenario, for on-call coverage and other communications, and having mutual aid agreements in place.
Finally, Bill Stephens, MS, Tarrant County Public Health (TX), aimed squarely on the future and challenged the audience to join the NARR in becoming the community of practice around radiological preparedness.
The conversation covered the waterfront—from talking about the need to improve preparedness for the very type of substance that was used against the Russian spy in 2006 (alpha-emitters) to a comment about new FBI trainings for investigating criminal activities related to radiation. States, especially those without nuclear power plants, need to know what the real threats are in order to prioritize and plan for likely scenarios.
Following an event, messaging may need to be ahead of the signs and symptoms exhibited by the exposed. Like the community in Goiania, Brazil in 1985 (where 130,000 people flooded emergency rooms after an exposure, but only 20 had signs and symptoms of radiation sickness), the public may not wait for leaders to “be sure” about what the situation is. They’ll take immediate action and we need to be ready for that! How can radiation be integrated with current surveillance systems so as to minimize burden on local public health? How can we encourage continuity planning for businesses and families? These are some of the questions that will guide the NARR’s work moving forward.
The NARR kick-off meeting is March 24-25, 2011 following the “Bridging the Gaps: Public Health and Radiation Emergency Preparedness” conference in Atlanta, GA. Look for the NARR website to launch in June 2011 with information and tools to help us become a more protected, resilient nation. For more information, contact Sterling Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sterling Elliott is a Senior Analyst of Public Health Preparedness at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. She provides staff support to the National Alliance for Radiation Readiness (NARR).