Be Ready for Radiation Emergencies

Protect yourself, your loved ones, and your pets during a radiation emergency by getting inside, staying inside, and staying tuned.

It’s Saturday night and you’re at home with your family watching TV. A news alert announces a radiation emergency in your city. What should you do?

The answer to that is to stay where you are—inside watching the news for updates and guidance from your local officials.

A radiation emergency can be caused by an overturned truck hauling radioactive material, a nuclear power plant accident, “dirty bomb,” or a nuclear explosion.

Outside of a radiation emergency, we are exposed to radiation every day in the environment without any harm to our health. But exposure to high doses of radiation during a radiation emergency can cause a range of harmful health effects.

Some health effects of radiation may start right away or within several days, while others may not be apparent for many years. Effects from exposure to radiation can range from mild, such as skin reddening, to serious effects such as skin damage, acute radiation syndrome (ARS), and death. This depends on the amount of radiation absorbed by the body (the dose), the type of radiation, and for how long the person was exposed. That’s why it is important to get inside as soon as you can, stay inside, and stay tuned for information from emergency response or government officials.

Knowing the right steps to take can save lives and protect health.

Graphic: Get inside. Stay inside. Stay tuned.

If a radiation emergency occurs, you can take actions to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your pets.

Get Inside

If you are outside or in a car when a radiation emergency occurs, get inside a building and take shelter as soon as you can. The walls of your home can block much of the harmful radiation. It is important to stay inside until officials provide instructions or say it is safe to go outside.

Stay Inside

If you are outside when a radiation emergency occurs, get inside the closest building as soon as you can. If you are already inside, stay there and shelter in place.

Getting inside of a building and staying there is called “sheltering in place”. As soon as you get inside, decontaminate yourself (remove and wash radioactive material from your body). Even just removing your outer layer of clothing can remove up to 90% of radioactive material.

Once you get in a building, there are things you can do to stay safe inside. Always listen for additional instructions from emergency officials and radiation experts.

If you have loved ones in schools, day cares, hospitals, nursing homes, or other facilities during a radiation emergency, stay where you are. Going outside to get loved ones could expose you and them to dangerous levels of radiation. Children and adults in schools, daycares, hospitals, nursing homes, or other places will be instructed to stay inside until emergency responders know that it is safe to evacuate. Facilities have plans in place to keep everyone safe inside.

Stay Tuned

It will be important to stay tuned once you get inside for updated instructions from emergency response officials. As officials learn more about the emergency, they will be communicating the latest information to the public. Television, radio, and social media are some examples of ways that you may receive information.

You should not leave your building or place of shelter until officials or emergency responders have said it is safe, unless you have a life-threatening condition.

Be Prepared for a Radiation Emergency

What can you do before a radiation emergency happens so that you are prepared? At home, put together an emergency kit for yourself and your family, and an emergency kit for your pets, that you can use in any emergency. A battery-powered or hand crank emergency radio, preferably a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio is important to have for any emergency.

Check with your community leaders, child’s school, the nursing home of a family member, and your employer to see what their plans are for dealing with a radiation emergency.