As a top research university, our campuses are dotted with dozens of buildings housing labs that use chemicals and radioactive materials. When our faculty, staff, and students work with these materials to perform ground-breaking research, it’s important they are trained to do so in a safe manner. That’s where Risk Management & Safety’s radiological safety and chemical inventory & software management teams come in.
These teams provide radiation safety training to faculty and students, monitor radiation-producing devices and materials, maintain chemical inventories, and perform leak tests and other systematic duties to safeguard those who interact with these materials. They also ensure the university is in compliance with federal and state regulations. And recently, they expanded their reach to emergency responders in our community to share their expertise and enhance campus safety.
Weapons of Mass Destruction Working Group
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) Working Group was created to highlight specific areas within the Las Vegas valley that contain radioactive materials and chemical inventory and work with lead supervisors to coordinate emergency preparedness activities, conduct training, and build strong relationships.
The working group is headed by an FBI special agent in charge of WMD and includes the FBI; the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; All-Hazard Regional Multi-agency Operations and Response (ARMOR) Section, which responds and investigates chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive incidents; Bomb Squad; Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT); LV Fire & Rescue; and Clark County Fire Department/HAZMAT.
UNLV joined the WMD Working Group in 2020 to increase its strategic emergency preparedness. With many working remotely for the past two years, this spring was the first time UNLV’s risk management and safety team interacted face-to-face with the WMD Working Group for training and cross-agency strategizing.
“This is a great win for the university and will help ensure emergency responders are better trained to respond and perform their duties when called upon,” said Paul Garcia, assistant director of environmental health and safety.
Uniting Teams to Increase Knowledge
In April, during a two-day session, RMS representatives attended tabletop discussions and participated in emergency exercises where personnel interacted with real-life scenarios. These exercises included radiation-emitting materials and safety equipment. For some RMS team members, this was the first time they participated in emergency drills while wearing protective gear. These “full-dress” drills enhanced unit camaraderie while boosting their effectiveness to respond to an emergency.
“The objective of these exercises was to ensure emergency responders are better trained and prepared to handle a wide range of actual emergency incidents," said Radiological Safety Officer Brian Rowsell.
In a separate event, RMS also provided FBI and LVMPD bomb squad members with campus tours of several radioactive material laboratories and briefed the group on university regulatory requirements. FBI special agents who toured the campus spoke with Radiation Safety Specialist Reggie Stewart about how their agency would assist our campus in an emergency.
“The tours gave other WMD members the opportunity to know the individuals within our organization, our respective roles, duties, and responsibilities, including the types of research taking place, which will allow for a more tailored response,” said Stewart.
These meetings helped RMS to familiarize themselves with the capabilities of each emergency response unit. "Our newer office members were able to meet many of the community emergency response members that would respond to an actual emergency at UNLV,” said Rowsell. “Giving members of the WMD Working Group tours of our research facilities proved to be beneficial for all parties involved. Now, everyone is familiar with each other, the risk factors they face, and how they can address them together as a team”
The emergency response exercises and campus tours helped UNLV understand more about how emergencies are handled by the WMD Working Group and what we can do to assist. 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 great deal about mitigating threats and responding to threat scenarios.
"The opportunity to participate in this event allowed the UNLV Radiation Safety Office staff to build working relationships with these emergency responders to exchange ideas to keep UNLV and Las Vegas safe," said Christina Hall, radiation safety technician.
Increased community involvement among agencies will lead to a better understanding of how to assist each other in case of an incident. The ultimate goal of UNLV’s participation is to make better decisions. In the chance that there are threats against the safety of the UNLV community, RMS will be prepared with a well-coordinated response and, if needed, the assistance of the Las Vegas WMD Working Group.