Experts Agree: Planning is the Key to Success

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Natural disaster cleanup

Natural disaster cleanup

Last week, researchers from all over the world descended upon EPA’s Research Triangle Park campus in Durham, NC for the International Decontamination Conference. Decontamination is one of the critical challenges that the United States and EPA would face in recovering from a major chemical, biological, or radiological incident.

Throughout the conference, experts discussed the best practices for returning a community to normal operations following a number of attack scenarios including biological threats such as anthrax, ricin, and even ebola. Experts agreed the key to success was planning. Having a number of known and tested options for cleanup are important for decision makers in a time of crisis.

“Technical emergency response is very complex and difficult. Research to improve response must include the technical elements – what needs to be done – and the application elements – how you do it in the time of urgency and uncertainty.”

–Joseph Barbera, Co-Director of the Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management

Experts from Japan discussed methods for reducing indoor contamination following the 2011 earthquake and the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Their findings are consistent with EPA research in reducing radiological contamination in residential areas and what EPA researchers found while providing technical assistance in Fukushima following the incident.

Something that is often overlooked in planning for decontamination is planning for waste. EPA researcher Paul Lemieux pointed out that while waste is typically viewed as a later phase of clean-up and not a function of initial disaster response, “waste will start being generated almost immediately after the initial contamination incident and as a result, pre-incident waste management planning is absolutely necessary.”

There was also a focus on drinking water and wastewater systems. Recently, EPA researchers collaborated with researchers at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory to build the Water Security Test Bed– a first of its kind water security research and testing center. This test bed gives researchers the capability to intentionally contaminate and test the response to a number of potential threats. EPA and DoE are opening up this test bed research to potential collaborators such as agencies within the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, universities, water utilities, and foundations interested in water security research.

This is the first in a series of blog posts about the International Decon Conference. More information about specific research will follow over the next several weeks.

For more information specifically about EPA’s Homeland Security Research Program, please visit:

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Homeland Security Research Program to promote science to keep our communities safe and resilient.

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