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Reservists prep first responders for Pope's visit

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Timm Huffman
  • HQ RIO Public Affairs

A group of Individual Mobilization Augmentees spent two days training Philadelphia-area first responders on how to respond in the event of a nuclear or radiological terrorist attack.

Four Air Force Reservists taught the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Introduction to Radiological and Nuclear Incident Response course, July 7-8, at the Montgomery County Fire Academy, in advance of Pope Francis’ visit in September, which is expected to draw 10,000 world delegates and 2 million devotees for mass.

The course is offered through the Defense Nuclear Weapons School, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, and is managed by a group of 33 Individual Reservists who often take the course on the road and has reached more than 3,000 first responders in the past three years. 

Maj. Paula Hawley, DNWS instructor, said the course is an awareness-level course that aims to calm first responder’s “radiophobia,” help them have a better grasp on how to respond and what to expect when other federal agencies become involved.

The 98 attendees, mostly local and state police, learned basic radiation science and radiological terrorism realities, fundamentals of nuclear weapons and radiological dispersal devices, medical and psychological effects of ionizing radiation, radiation hazards, detection equipment, personal protective equipment, and decontamination procedures, and an overview of Federal Incident Response policies and procedures.

The instructors give a hands-on demonstration to show how detection equipment works and what different types of radiation looks like. 

According to Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Martin, many locales avoid talking about the possibilities of a nuclear or radiological attack because if you talk about it, it’s an acknowledgement that it might actually happen.

Both Hawley and Martin said the goal is to reduce the fears that surround nuclear blasts and radiation by educating the first responders on what actually happens following an attack or disaster (think Fukushima). This knowledge, they say, will enable local police, fire and medical responders to save lives. 

“A confident responder is a good responder,” said Martin. “And that is what you want.”

The course also gives attendees a Department of Defense perspective and helps them understand how they fit into the big picture of a response to a nuclear or radiological event.

In the course feedback, attendees gave the course a thumbs-up, calling it practical, valuable and invaluable in preparing for major events.

“The presenters knew the material and how to present it. As a former US Army guy, I hate to give kudos to the U.S. Air Force, but this was, yet again, a great class taught by the Air Force,” said one attendee.

IMAs are Air Force Reservists assigned to active-component units and government agencies. They are managed by Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization, located at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, and serve more than 50 separate major commands, combatant commands and government agencies.

Unlike traditional Reservists, who are assigned to Reserve units that regularly perform duty together, IMAs work with their active-duty supervisors to create a custom duty schedule that helps their unit meet mission requirements.

To learn more about the Individual Reserve, visit

DTRA is the sole DOD agency that conducts Radiological and Nuclear Incident Response training. The course prepares responders with two of the 15 DHS National Planning Scenarios, specifically a nuclear detonation from a nuclear device and a radiological attack with a radiological dispersal device. The course is conducted in-residence at Kirtland AFB and can also be provided to organizations via the mobile training team in the U.S. and at overseas locations.

For information on the IRNIR course, contact the DNWS at 505-846-0663.