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Transcript for audio podcast on the following report:
Local Public Health Preparedness for Radiological and Nuclear Incidents.

From the Office of Inspector General of Department of Health and Human Services

Roberta Baskin, Director of Media Communications, sits down with Hannah Burk, Program Analyst for the Office of Evaluation and Inspections (OEI) in Atlanta, to discuss the recent OEI report titled Local Public Health Preparedness for Radiological and Nuclear Incidents.

[Roberta Baskin:] I'm Roberta Baskin, the Director of Media Communications speaking with Hannah Burk, a program analyst for our Office of Evaluation and Inspections about a report called "Radiological and Nuclear Preparedness." Hannah, tell us about the focus of this report?

[Hannah Burk:] Sure. This report examined local public health preparedness for radiological and nuclear incidents. We refer to them as RN incidents in our report. An RN incident response involves many different aspects. However, we focused on the public health aspects of a response.

Additionally, most State and local governments have general emergency plans, referred to as all-hazards plans, which can be adapted and applied to a variety of different incidents. However, RN incidents present unique challenges that may not be covered by an all-hazards plan. So in this report, we focused on public health planning specific to RN incidents.

[Roberta Baskin:] What types of incidents did the team evaluate?

[Hannah Burk:] We focused on planning for RN incidents that are terroristic in nature, such as a dirty bomb or an improvised nuclear device. We did not include planning for incidents involving nuclear powerplants for a couple of reasons. First, emergency planning for powerplants is required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; whereas there are no requirements that public health departments have emergency plans for other types of RN incidents.

Also, because powerplant incidents are quite different in nature from other types of RN incidents, emergency plans for powerplants are not sufficient to prepare for these other types of RN incidents. So for example, in a powerplant emergency, the circumstances would be known; whereas in a nonpowerplant RN incident the circumstances will initially be unknown, and this can create additional challenges that would need to be addressed.

[Roberta Baskin:] Tell us how you did this study and what you found?

[Hannah Burk:] We looked at the 40 largest metropolitan areas, which together contain half of the U.S. population. And we found that about half of the 40 areas had some RN planning. However, the other half of these areas did not conduct RN planning. Some of these indicated that they would use their all-hazards plan to respond. But, these all-hazards plans may not cover the specific planning needed to quickly respond to an RN incident.

[Roberta Baskin:] So, should every local area be expected to have emergency planning for these incidents?

[Hannah Burk:] Well, it depends. Local governments must manage their limited resources as effectively as possible. They should use risk assessments to help determine where to focus their emergency planning efforts. So for example, if an area determines that an RN incident is a high priority threat, they could develop an RN-specific plan to supplement their all-hazards plan.

[Roberta Baskin:] When areas did risk assessments and determined incidents were a threat, did they plan accordingly?

[Hannah Burk:] Interestingly, risk assessment results did not always correspond with RN incident planning. For instance, out of the four areas that indicated RN incidents were a high priority threat, only one had RN public health planning. On the other hand, out of the seven areas that indicated RN incidents were a low priority threat, five of these had RN planning.

[Roberta Baskin:] What else did you find?

[Hannah Burk:] We found that about half of the areas with planning had coordinated their planning with other entities. Most commonly, they coordinated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and the Department of Energy. They also coordinated with their States' radiation control programs as well as with local entities like local emergency medical personnel.

We also found that most of our respondents were aware of Federal RN- guidance sources, but fewer had actually used them for planning. And, many requested more comprehensive and specific planning tools.

[Roberta Baskin:] Since CDC distributes funding and guidance to help State and local governments with emergency planning, what is the Office of Inspector General recommending to CDC?

[Hannah Burk:] We recommended CDC work with State and local governments to align their incident-specific planning with the results of local risk assessments. CDC should also provide more specific guidance on the public health aspects of an RN-incident and on coordination with other entities as well as to provide more training to State and local planners about the unique aspects of RN incidents.

[Roberta Baskin]: What's been the CDC's response to this report?

[Hannah Burk]: CDC agreed with all of our recommendations and plans to continue to emphasize the use of risk assessments in its public health planning guidance. CDC also intends to provide more specific guidance and training on RN incident planning to State and local governments.

[Roberta Baskin:] Hannah, give us a look ahead... Is this work leading to any future topics?

[Hannah Burk:] OIG will continue to focus on emergency preparedness by keeping an eye on emerging threats and directing our work to those.

[Roberta Baskin:] Hannah Burk, a program analyst for the Office of Evaluation and Inspections, thank you for sharing this important work on emergency preparedness.

[Hannah Burk:] Thank you Roberta.


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