The Radiation Control Program (RCP) plans for emergencies before they happen to facilitate the decision making process. The RCP's emergency preparedness program enables personnel to rapidly identify, evaluate, and react to a wide spectrum of emergencies, including those arising from terrorism. Usual duties of the RCP include ensuring that its licensees and registrants protect the public health and safety during routine operations involving licensed and registered sources of radiation, and in any incident or event involving radioactive material. RCP staff work in cooperation with other local, State and Federal health and emergency response organizations.

In response to an incident in Massachusetts that could threaten public health and safety or the environment, the RCP activates its Nuclear Incident Advisory Team (NIAT). NIAT's highest priority is to ensure the protection of public health and safety and the environment. NIAT provides expert consultation, support, and assistance on radiation protection issues to other state and local public safety and health officials responding to the event. Once NIAT is activated, teams of specialists are assembled to obtain and evaluate incident information and to assess the potential impact of the event on public health and safety and the environment.

NIAT scientists and engineers analyze the event and evaluate possible recovery strategies. Meanwhile, other trained professionals evaluate the effectiveness of protective actions that have been recommended by a licensee or registrant and implemented by State and local officials to minimize the impact on public health and safety and the environment.

NIAT's response to an incident may range from routine follow-up activities by one individual to a complete activation of all NIAT members and activation of the New England Radiological Health Compact and a request for federal assistance.

If event conditions warrant, the Agency will immediately dispatch a team of NIAT experts to the site. Once NIAT is in place, the team serves as the Agency's eyes and ears on site allowing a firsthand assessment of the situation and face-to-face communications with all participants. Logistical and technical support is made available 24/7 throughout the response at the site of the event, in the Radiation Control Program's Offices and its Environmental Radiation Laboratory, and/or at the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC).

In general, response activities performed by NIAT include:

  • Monitoring - Typically an information gathering activity rather than an actual response mode.

  • Standby - The Agency will assemble its NIAT responders and prepare to dispatch a team of specialists who could rapidly travel to the site if needed.

  • Initial Activation - The NIAT team is dispatched to predetermined duty stations, and/or to the incident site for face-to-face coordination with State and local response officials, other response teams, and with licensees and registrants.

  • Expanded Activation - NIAT arrives and assumes its evaluation, communication and protective action recommendation duties as warranted by the scope of the incident. Expanded Activation for a severe nuclear accident could include recommending activation of the New England Compact on Radiological Health Protection and request for activation of a Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center.

Specifics on the NIAT Team

  • The Radiation Control Program has 22 NIAT responders equipped with in-situ gamma spectrometry and analysis capability, portable alpha, beta, gamma and neutron detection and measurement systems, field response equipment, and beepers/cell phones.

  • 5 expert NIAT Consultants who work in the Department of Public Health.

  • 20 licensee and registrant specialized expert NIAT Advisors.

  • Environmental Radiation Laboratory dedicated to quantitative and qualitative radionuclide measurement and analysis.

  • 24/7 rapid response through the use of established emergency communications procedures that include:

    • 24-Hour Emergency Telephone Number - (617) 242-3453 .

    • On-call Officer of the Day during normal working hours (9-5).

    • After-hours response initiation by the Massachusetts State Police Dispatch Unit or the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

    • Formalized NIAT activation procedures and call-tree.

  • Incident response times averaging 20 minutes to 2 hours throughout the state during normal traffic and weather conditions.

The New England Compact on Radiological Health Protection

In 1967, the governors of the 6 New England states signed the New England Compact on Radiological Health Protection. The Compact is a mutual assistance agreement that provides for one or more of the New England states to come to the assistance of another in radiological matters if and when requested by the Department of Public Health Coordinator (e.g., people, equipment or both). In fact, calling upon the compact for assistance is an option that Massachusetts is required to consider under the Massachusetts Radiological Emergency Response Plan, and exercising this option is routinely evaluated by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency - FEMA.

The Compact's directing body is the New England Radiological Health Committee (NERHC). NERHC is made up of the Radiation Control Program Directors from Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut; and, the Regional Radiological Representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

NERHC has continuously met once per year in early November and provides opportunities for training and the exchange of information between not only the committee members, but also the staffs of the radiation control programs. The meetings include formal training and presentations by technical speakers from across the country and Canada on current issues of mutual concern. Attendance has expanded beyond radiation control program staff, and now includes many professionals in the radiation safety field, federal law enforcement, and public safety arena. Importantly, the meetings provide an indispensable platform for interagency team building and the fostering of mutual assistance for responding to a severe nuclear emergency.

Membership consists of the contiguous New England states, and even though New York has not applied formally, it has been represented at many of the meetings. Likewise, Canada has been in regular attendance at NERHC meetings since 1995.

Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center - FRMAC

When a major radiological emergency is anticipated, suspected, or has occurred, a Lead Federal Agency or state(s) can request activation of a FRMAC to provide support. The FRMAC is an interagency organization with representatives from various federal, state, and local radiological response organizations. A declaration to respond to a major radiological emergency will be made by the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) Headquarters in consultation with the cognizant DOE Regional Coordinating Office and the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Site Office. Each of the eight DOE Regional Coordinating Centers maintains a 24-hour response capability for radiological emergencies that may occur in states served by its region.

Additional Information


This information is provided by the Radiation Control Program within the Department of Public Health.