One of the main sources of such information is gamma dose rate data, which is voluntarily reported from fixed monitoring stations worldwide, said Elena Buglova, Head of the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre. "The data received is integrated with geographic coordinates and then visualized on a map."
IRMIS provides a mechanism for reporting these specific measurements from the fixed monitoring stations worldwide. At the same time, the system is also capable of accepting emergency gamma dose rate data collected through temporary stations, hand-held measurements or mobile monitoring systems, such as backpack systems, vehicle or aerial systems. This allows the data to be mapped, visualized and assessed against the area where focused protective actions, such as evacuation, sheltering and food restrictions, can be taken.
The online system has specifically pre-designed color coded palettes that can differentiate displayed radiation levels. It allows for the evaluation of radiation measurement trends over a selected time period and the display of near real time results at a given location.
IRMIS is not an early warning system that automatically reports when there are significant deviations in radiation levels or when values are detected above certain levels, Buglova said. However, the configuration of the visualization features offered by IRMIS may help users to determine where elevated gamma dose rate measurements during a radiation or nuclear emergency indicate that actions to protect the public are necessary.
"The data can be used to assist emergency responders determine where and when to take necessary actions to protect the public," she said.
IRMIS supports the implementation of the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident whereby the signatory parties have a mechanism for reporting environmental radiation monitoring data during nuclear or radiological emergencies.
Future versions of IRMIS will also enable the reporting of radioactivity measurements of environmental samples collected during an emergency, said Buglova.
Authorities and technical organizations with a national role in collecting and reporting radiation monitoring data are encouraged to voluntarily provide data to the online system. IRMIS is currently launched for all users of the USIE system and future developments, including public accessibility, are foreseen to be implemented over the next couple of years.
Every year, the IAEA conducts exercises that invite countries to test their response arrangements to various types of incidents and emergencies. In one of the most recent exercises at the turn of the year, 53 countries were challenged to react to a simulated radiological emergency in Mexico, testing their capacity to respond. Emergency professionals communicated with national counterparts and international partners to find the best ways to respond together.
“Exercises like this are an opportunity for us to check our response arrangements. In the case of Mexico, this exercise was particularly useful to test lessons learned after 2013,” said Juan Eibenschutz, Director General of Mexico’s National Nuclear Security and Safeguards Commission.
In December 2013, a radioactive source was actually stolen from a truck and found by Mexican authorities in a field close by a few days later. The perpetrators were later found to have suffered radiation exposure. The IAEA emergency exercise evoked a very similar scenario.
In the exercise scenario, a teletherapy machine containing a radioactive isotope used for treating cancer was robbed from a truck in Mexico, dismantled and broken. The unshielded source was eventually spotted in a backpack at the Mexico City International Airport.
The challenge for the professionals involved in the exercise was to mitigate the consequences with international support. Mexico, for example, sought for fictitious assistance from different countries in searching and recovering the source, conducting a radiation survey, and providing medical and decontamination services to the population.
“We organize these exercises to test how professionals cooperate at the international level, based on the international arrangements and the guidance of the IAEA,” said Buglova.
The IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Center assessed the emergency situation, provided regular updates for the participating countries and monitored all actions of the in-house players during the exercise. It also prepared information for the media.