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What’s the next thing to worry about? New summits unpick radiological and biological threats

This takes the form of a series of summits, each designed to assess strategies against specific threats and to create a national test and evaluation process.

Hospitals across China are overwhelmed by an explosion of Covid cases following Beijing's decision to lift restrictions that kept the virus at bay but tanked its economy and sparked mass protests
Hospitals across China are overwhelmed by an explosion of Covid cases following Beijing's decision to lift restrictions that kept the virus at bay but tanked its economy and sparked mass protests - Copyright AFP/File Noel CELIS
Hospitals across China are overwhelmed by an explosion of Covid cases following Beijing's decision to lift restrictions that kept the virus at bay but tanked its economy and sparked mass protests - Copyright AFP/File Noel CELIS

How well equipped are governments and their advisers for preparing for the next disaster? Having seen a mixed array of responses to COVID-19 and to various local incidences over the past few years, this is a question that many citizens will be wondering.

Even the home, which mentally some picture as a ‘sealed fortress’, does not provide immunity from the world.

New summits are set to explore radiological and biological risks to the built environment. This includes assessments from experts in nuclear weapons, radioactive materials, bioterrorism, infectious disease transmission and other calamities that could wait us.

The built environment may offer a degree of protection; however, buildings are porous and permeable, allowing microbes, pathogens and even radioactive elements to slip inside unnoticed.

To help ensure that U.S. buildings can withstand terrorism, pandemics and tragic accidents, Northwestern University is working with Idaho National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Incident Policy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

This takes the form of a series of summits, each designed to assess strategies against specific threats and to create a national test and evaluation process so that officials can investigate building vulnerabilities. Post-investigation, a series of recommendations can then be made to mitigate the risks.

Termed the Built Environment Surveillance Testbed (BEST) summits, these events begin during April 2023. The virtual events are run from the Idaho National Laboratory and they begin with radiological risks.

The focus is with areas like radiological detection, emergency response and decontamination. The event will discuss different forms of radiation, appropriate emergency training and response, different types of radioactive materials, the threat of nuclear weapons, the impact upon environmental health and the specific threats posed by terrorism.

The next event, scheduled for June 13, is dedicated to biological risks. Her the focus will be with preparedness for bioterrorism and infectious disease transmission.

Speakers include Aaron Packman, who is an expert in waterborne disease transmission and water-based epidemiology and Erica Hartmann, an indoor microbiologist and an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

While managers of many buildings mobilised quickly to provide hand sanitiser, encourage the use of face coverings, and implement social-distancing measures, it was not always easy to provide clean air for people to breathe.

The two will draw upon the effectiveness of the wide range of technologies that were developed during the COVID-19 pandemic to see how they can be further applied. This includes techniques for monitoring pathogens in building air and water systems as well as methods to improve building ventilation, air filters and surface disinfection to reduce transmission risks.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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