The Dangers of Research: How Risk Management Combines to Keep the Community Safe

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As a leading research university, our campuses are dotted with dozens of buildings housing laboratories that use chemicals and radioactive materials. When our faculty, staff and students work with these materials to perform groundbreaking research, it is important that they are trained to do so safely. This is where the radiological safety and chemical inventory management teams and Risk Management & Safety software come in.

These teams provide radiation safety training to faculty and students, monitor radiation-producing devices and materials, maintain chemical inventories, and perform leak testing and other routine tasks to protect those who interact with these materials. They also ensure that the university is in compliance with federal and state regulations. And recently, they have extended their reach to emergency responders in our community to share their expertise and improve campus safety.

Christina Hall, Radiation Safety Specialist with UNLV Risk and Safety Management, performs a lab inspection in the Bigelow Health Sciences building. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV)

Weapons of Mass Destruction Task Force

After the events of 9/11, law enforcement and first responders realized the importance of interagency communication and collaboration to better assist the communities they serve. The Las Vegas Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Task Force was created to highlight specific areas of the Las Vegas Valley that contain radioactive material and chemical inventory and work with key supervisors to coordinate the emergency preparedness activities, conduct training and build strong relationships.

The task force is led by an FBI Special Agent in charge of WMD and includes the FBI; the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; the ARMOR section (All-Hazard Regional Multi-agency Operations and Response), which responds to and investigates chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive incidents; bomb squad; Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT); BT fire and rescue; and Clark County Fire Department/HAZMAT.

UNLV joined the WMD Task Force in 2020 to increase its strategic emergency preparedness. With much working remotely over the past two years, this spring marked the first time that UNLV’s Risk and Security team interacted face-to-face with the ADM Workgroup for Training and the development of inter-agency strategies.

“This is a big win for the university and will help ensure that emergency responders are better trained to respond and perform their tasks when called upon,” said Paul Garcia, deputy director of health. and environmental safety.

Federate teams to increase knowledge

In April, during a two-day session, RMS representatives attended table-top discussions and participated in emergency drills where staff interacted with real-life scenarios. These drills included radiation-emitting materials and safety equipment. For some members of the RMS team, it was the first time they participated in emergency drills while wearing protective gear. These “full dress” exercises enhanced unit camaraderie while increasing their effectiveness in responding to an emergency.

“The objective of these exercises was to ensure that emergency responders are better trained and prepared to handle a wide range of real-life emergency incidents,” said radiation safety officer Brian Rowsell.

In a separate event, RMS also provided members of the FBI and LVMPD bomb squads with campus tours of several radioactive material labs and briefed the group on the university’s regulatory requirements. FBI special agents who visited campus spoke with radiation protection specialist Reggie Stewart about how their agency would assist our campus in an emergency.

“The visits gave other ADM members the opportunity to learn about the people within our organization, our respective roles, duties and responsibilities, including the types of research taking place, which will allow for a more personalized response” , Stewart said.

These meetings allowed RMS to familiarize themselves with the capabilities of each emergency response unit. “Our new board members were able to meet many members of the emergency response community who would respond to a real-life emergency at UNLV,” Rowsell said. Now everyone knows each other, knows the risk factors they face and knows how to deal with them as a team.

Exchange of expertise

Emergency response drills and campus tours have helped UNLV better understand how emergencies are handled by the WMD Task Force and what we can do to help. Coordinating field exercises and facility tours gives first responders an example of what it takes to provide a timely and well-organized response to a threat or emergency. The RMS team learned a lot about threat mitigation and responding to threat scenarios.

“The opportunity to participate in this event has allowed staff from the UNLV Radiation Protection Office to build working relationships with these emergency responders to exchange ideas for keeping UNLV safe and Las Vegas,” said Christina Hall, radiation protection technician.

Increased community involvement among agencies will lead to a better understanding of how to help each other in the event of an incident. The ultimate goal of UNLV participation is to make better decisions. In the event that there are security threats to the UNLV community, RMS will be prepared with a well-coordinated response and, if needed, assistance from the Las Vegas WMD Task Force.

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