Next for hospitals in disaster planning: How to prepare for nuclear war

Hospital disaster planning has shifted in recent years to train staff on how to prepare for mass casualties, an active shooter within the facility and natural disasters. Now, it’s time to add nuclear war to the list.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is planning a briefing for healthcare professionals on how to respond to a nuclear detonation. The Grand Round briefing will take place at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16 at the CDC Global Communications Center in Georgia and will be webcast live and later available on-demand.

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Although the CDC announcement said that nuclear detonation is unlikely, the topic and image of a nuclear mushroom cloud in the announcement are disturbing, particularly in the wake of President Donald Trump’s recent tweet about North Korea and a nuclear button.


However, a spokesperson for the agency told STAT that the event has been planned for months since the CDC participated in a radiation/nuclear incident exercise conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency last spring.

The CDC conducts public health grand rounds each month to foster discussion and debate on major public health issues. In the event of a nuclear incident, the agency said the results would be devastating and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps.

“Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness,” the CDC said in the announcement. “For instance, most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation.”

If such an event was to occur, the CDC said federal, state and local agencies will lead the immediate response efforts. However, public health will play a key role in the response. Therefore, it’s important that healthcare professionals understand how planning and preparation efforts are similar and different from other emergency responses.

Speakers will include Dan Sosin, M.D., deputy director and chief medical officer, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, CDC; Michael Noska, radiation safety officer and senior advisor for health physics at the Food and Drug Administration; the CDC’s Robert Whitcomb, Ph.D., chief, radiation studies branch, Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, National Center for Environmental Health; Betsy Kagey, Ph.D., academic and special projects liaison, Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response, Division of Health Protection, Georgia Department of Health.