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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Panel of health experts offers advice and tools for a nuclear response

ASPR coordinates panel to provide practical tools for planning and responding to health effects of a nuclear blast

March 14, 2011:  A panel of experts in the health effects of a nuclear blast – and the related ethical and societal issues – provides new tools for planners and the public in the series of articles featured in the Journal of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) convened this panel of subject matter experts from government, academia and the private sector to answer the question, “What do I do?” and to provide practical tools for those involved in planning for and responding to a nuclear scenario.
A terrorist nuclear detonation would have enormous physical, medical, and psychological consequences. Thousands of injured and ill survivors and uninjured concerned citizens would require medical care or at least an assessment and instructions. Near the incident, there will be a marked imbalance between the demand for medical resources and their availability. Beyond the immediate blast area most people would reach medical care independently and require assessment to determine what medical intervention might be necessary, appropriate, and possible.
This article series describes the physical environment and the casualty situation after a 10-kiloton nuclear detonation and discusses the imbalance between resources and demand that produce the scarce-resource setting and change to crisis standards of care. In the articles, the expert panel presents supporting information and background material on acute radiation syndrome and medical care issues to help facilitate an effective response. They also address the ethical, legal, psychological, and systemic challenges and the importance of both lifesaving and palliative/comfort care.

The article series defines an approach based on the new model of resource- and time-based triage, to provide medical care and triage in an environment with extremely scarce medical resources in the few days following a nuclear detonation. The series provides practical guidance including a prototype of a state and local planners’ playbook and a tool that could be used by planners and responders to triage victims. While the scope of a nuclear detonation is large, the tools provided in this series can serve to enhance community preparation and ultimately improve the response and resilience to such a mass casualty incident.
For additional information on allocating scarce resources in disaster situations, visit To read the article series by the ASPR-coordinated panel of experts, visit

Public Health News

  • This page last reviewed: March 14, 2011