"Bab Al Maghrib" emergency simulation exercise concludes after 26 hours
22 November 2013 - Over the past two days the tension was high in emergency operations centres in 58 States including Morocco and 19 international organizations participating in the “Bab Al Maghrib” exercise to test their response to simulated dirty bomb attacks. The simulated “explosions” took place in the port of Tangier Med and Marrakech medina in Morocco. They ‘triggered’ a number of serious implications: “actual” for few States, “potential” for some and “perceived” for many. Issues addressed during the exercise were connected to a radioactive release into the atmosphere, medical response and public health, security, transparent public communications, industry and tourism and commerce, in particular import and export of goods.
This exercise provided an excellent platform for WHO as the specialized agency for health to exercise three of its objectives under the bilateral agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and under the Joint Plan arrangements. These include:
- validating decision making procedures at country and regional level for notification of a radiological event under the International Health Regulation (IHR) 2005;
- to identify gaps in preparedness to respond to a radiological emergency and to provide assistance to its Member States. WHO’s global Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network (REMPAN) was activated as WHO’s technical arm for providing advice and assistance. Experts provided advice on clinical management of potential acute radiation syndrome, local injuries, management of radioactive contamination, as well as emergency responders safety;
- to demonstrate the importance of communication and coordination of information for public health messaging at all levels of the organization and specifically with WHO’s regional IHR focal points namely in the European and its Eastern Mediterranean Regions.
Some immediate conclusions were drawn: the collaboration of security and safety authorities in States needs to be improved and communication with the public has to be transparent, objective and easily understandable while protecting sensitive information – a challenging balance to achieve. In the coming weeks, feedback from participating Member States and international organizations will be compiled by the IAEA and become part of a comprehensive report to be used to strengthen national and international preparedness to respond to similar emergencies.
Though the lessons emerging from the “Bab Al Maghrib” exercise are based on the response to simulated dirty bomb explosions, many are also applicable to other types of nuclear and radiological emergencies.
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Ms. Nada Osseiran
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