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What Every Public Safety Officer Should Know About Radiation and Radioactive Materials

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2003
8 pages
This guide offers public safety personnel basic information about and an understanding of radiation, radiation hazards, and initial response.
Radiation is part of our environment and a form of energy released from a radioactive atom. Humans have been exposed to natural radioactive materials since the beginning of time through food and water. Manmade sources of radiation are found in medicine, industry, research, and nuclear weapons. The detection of radioactivity can occur in many ways, such as locating a radiation warning symbol on a vehicle, container, or object. However, nuclear radiation cannot be seen, heard, smelled, or tasted. Proper instrumentation is essential for detection. If a radioactive source or contamination is suspected, protocols established by the agency should be followed. Department policies and procedures may differ, such as those to be contacted in case of a radiological event. The fundamental principle in radiation protection is that all exposures should be kept to a minimum. Typically, exposure to radioactivity has no immediate symptoms. Three key factors influence an individual's radiation dose from exposure to a given source: time, distance, and shielding. Agency response protocols should be developed and followed for response to suspect weapons of mass destruction incidents.

Date Published: March 1, 2003