Worst-Case Scenario: Fire Response to Improvised Nuclear Devices

Battalion Chief Robert Ingram of the Fire Department of New York spoke about fire department planning for responding to the detonation of an improvised nuclear device in his FDIC 2010 class on Friday. Speaking to an international group of firefighters, Ingram indicated that although there is a low probability of such an event occurring, it is imperative to plan ahead because of the high consequences they entail.

Ingram reviewed the federal resources available to aid departments in planning for dealing with a nuclear strike. He described the different effects of an aerial burst versus a ground explosion. Planning for improvised nuclear devices is difficult due to the numerous agencies involved in the response as well as the constantly changing information on the subject. There are still many unknowns regarding the effects of such a detonation, and this affects how we determine best practices for response. “We’re not sure what perfect looks like” in such a situation, he said.

He stressed the crucial need for redundancy in public communications to keep civilians appraised of what is going on in the aftermath of this event. Ingram discussed how younger generations unfamiliar with the Cold War mentality are also not aware of concepts such as fallout, fallout shelters, duck-and-cover, etc., and how our perceptions of what would occur in such a scenario are affected by Cold War-ideas of a massive nuclear strike, the consequences of which would be much graver than an ad hoc attack by terrorists. He also focused on the need for coordinating a response with regional partners, so that local agencies can make the most of the critical period of time immediately following such an attack, before federal resources arrive.

Using extensive models of how an attack on New York City might unfold, Ingram weighed strategies for dealing with civilians in such a situation, whether to shelter-in-place or have informed evacuations. He stated that it is vital that responders know the protection factors (from radiation) of structures in their area so they can make informed decisions on how to evacuate civilians and best respond.

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