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Testing the plan

In November 2023, the McMaster University Health Physics Department conducted a large drill to test their transportation emergency response plan. The drill was also part of a Type II inspection on Emergency Preparedness by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

There were over 55 participants from ten different organizations, including McMaster Health Physics, McMaster Nuclear Reactor Operations, Isotope Production, AtomVie, Laurentis Energy Partners, Hamilton Health Sciences, Hamilton Fire Department, Hamilton Police, and Hamilton Paramedic Services.



The drill, held in the parking lot at McMaster Innovation Park, involved a simulated car crash in which one of the vehicles contained a radioactive shipment of Iodine-125 from McMaster Nuclear Reactor that was damaged in the crash. Scrap cars were procured to simulate the crash and add realism. Although the package used in the simulation had visible damage, the inner containment was not breached and there was no release of actual material.

The drill started with wonderful actors and actresses from the Health Physics Department pretending to be witnesses to the crash and calling for Hamilton Police. When the police arrived, they recognized the potential radiological hazards, which set off a chain reaction that resulted in the Hamilton Fire Department hazmat crews and the Hamilton Paramedic Services being notified.

One of the more unique steps in the emergency response plan occurs when the fire department’s hazmat crew is notified—they contact the McMaster University Health Physics Department for guidance and advice. This step is codified in a memorandum of understanding between the two organizations in which the Health Physics Department agrees to provide assistance in case of a radiological event in the area. That call from the fire department triggers a full-scale response from the Health Physics Department.

On the day of the drill, the three municipal emergency services and the university’s health physics team worked together to resolve the incident as safely and quickly as possible. The police cordoned the area and checked on the bystanders. The fire department rescued a patient with serious life-threatening injuries (simulated by a dummy, of course) and handed them off to the paramedics for immediate life-saving medical treatment.

Editor’s note: If the emergency responders had been concerned that the patient had a serious radiological injury, they might have alerted the Medical Emergency Radiation Incident Team (MERIT), which provides 24-hour emergency service for radioactively contaminated and/or irradiated casualties in Ontario. For more information about MERIT, see the related article in this issue, “A Simulated Exercise on Radiological Medical Management Preparedness.

Trust and planning lead to effective results

This level of preparedness and coordination is possible due to relationships built with these services over the last decade. For many years, representatives from these groups have participated in an annual meeting where they reviewed the detailed emergency response plan for the McMaster Nuclear Reactor. Then, starting in 2010, the Health Physics Department started training the fire department’s hazmat crew on how to effectively respond to radiological emergencies. Word spread to the Hamilton police emergency response unit. Finally, in 2018, a campaign to train every paramedic in Hamilton on how to respond to these types of events was conducted.

These relationships are incredibly valuable to McMaster Health Physics, but they also benefit the other organizations involved. Through frequent interaction and training, the response teams trust the knowledge of the health physics group. In return, McMaster University is confident in the ability of first responders to handle these types of emergencies effectively. When you hold Canada’s largest consolidated licence for use of nuclear substances, and host several nuclear facilities, including a 5 megawatt research reactor in the middle of a campus of more than 30,000 people in a city of more than 500,000 people, that confidence is priceless.

Drills like these are invaluable

The drill in November gave everyone involved the ability to flex a muscle that doesn’t get used very often. The fact that these groups can come together and learn how to work face-to-face as one unit is invaluable. It certainly beats showing up to an event and meeting everyone for the first time!

Related article

The Hamilton Spectator was on hand to chronicle the events. Read their article: “What would happen if radioactive material leaked from a rear-ended courier vehicle?



En novembre 2023, le département de radioprotection de l’Université McMaster a effectué un vaste exercice pour tester son plan d’intervention en cas d’urgence dans les transports. L’exercice faisait également partie d’une inspection de type II sur la préparation aux situations d’urgence par la Commission canadienne de sûreté nucléaire.

L’exercice, qui a été fait dans le stationnement du Parc de l’innovation de McMaster, a rassemblé 55 participants de 10 organisations différentes. Les trois services d’urgence de la municipalité et l’équipe de radioprotection de l’Université ont collaboré pour régler l’incident simulé de façon aussi sécuritaire et rapide que possible. Les relations entre les organisations participantes, établies au cours des 10 dernières années, et une planification minutieuse vont contribuer à garantir le succès de l’opération en cas d’urgence réelle.

Christopher Malcolmson

Chris est spécialiste en radioprotection à l’Université McMaster depuis 2005. Il a obtenu un baccalauréat en sciences de cette même université en 2004, suivi d’une maîtrise en 2011. Il a obtenu sa certification (A)ACRP en 2009, celle de l’American Board of Health Physics (conseil américain des spécialistes en radioprotection) en 2012, et a terminé l’examen de la National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists (Registre national des technologues en radioprotection) en 2016. Malcolmson est coordonnateur de l’examen au sous-comité des inscriptions de l’ACRP. Il est également membre de la commission des publications de l’Association internationale pour la protection contre les radiations.


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