MCHD's Dr. Lee B. Smith undergoes radiation specialist training in Oregon
Jun. 1, 2023
Contact: MaryWade Burnside
Public Information Officer
Monongalia County Health Department
Morgantown, WV 26505
(304) 598-5152 | www.monchd.org
For Immediate Release
MORGANTOWN, WV (June 1, 2023) — When a radiation incident occurs, responders consult a Radiological Operating Support Specialist (ROSS) for guidance.
“It’s kind of a ubiquitous term that describes the position and the training,” said Dr. Lee B. Smith, county health officer at Monongalia County Health Department. “If you were sitting in the command center and there was a radiological or nuclear incident, the question would be, ‘Who is my ROSS?’”
In West Virginia, that individual would likely be Dr. Smith, the only ROSS-trained radiation specialist in the Mountain State.
“During such an event, a ROSS 1, 2 or 3 would be assigned and would be considered the subject matter expert for that incident. There are a lot of moving parts, as you might imagine, if there were an event.”
Dr. Smith is currently a ROSS 3 but is continuing his studies on his own in order to advance even more in the system.
He traveled to Corvallis, Oregon, in February for a workshop presented by the Counterterrorism Operations Support (CTOS) Center for Radiological Nuclear Training. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has oversight of ROSS training and has designated CTOS as the organization that provides instruction.
According to information on a website about the workshop, hosted by the Health Physics Society, “The ROSS course is designed to provide hands-on training so participants can leave with the skills and capabilities to respond to radiological and nuclear emergencies.”
Hopefully such an event will never happen, Dr. Smith noted. However, if it does, there are plans in place to have an organized and coordinated approach.
Initial responses will start locally, he added, and would include individuals with a variety of specialties, including weather experts who would provide input on wind patterns as the incident unfolds.
“The fallout will happen rather quickly,” Dr. Smith said. “If there is a cloud, it will be gone in the first hour or so, and then there will be radiation on the ground. You may be requested to spend 48 hours somewhere. Typical instructions would be, ‘Get inside, stay inside and stay tuned.’
“Who makes that decision, and who has the correct information to make that decision?”
On a federal level, the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center (FRMAC), a conglomeration of federal agencies, would coordinate radiation monitoring, assessment and assistance to the state.
Locally, “Individuals trained on the ROSS level interpret the data as it comes in. They bring two things to the fight: They have radiological expertise and also an understanding of the incident command system, so they know where they are in the chain of command.”
Radiation events can be the result of different types of activities, from industrial X-ray equipment falling off of a truck; an accident at a nearby facility, such as Beaver Valley Power Station in Pennsylvania just outside the Northern Panhandle; or what is known as a “dirty” — i.e. radiological — bomb.
“There are those high up in government who feel there will be a dirty bomb some time in our lifetime, and being prepared for it is a big part of it.”
Dr. Smith, who has worked as an emergency physician, has undergone more than 800 hours of radiation training in the past eight years since he first arrived at Monongalia County Health Department in 2014.
“Public health has a responsibility in case of a nuclear event,” said Dr. Smith, who noted that MCHD’s Threat Preparedness’ Radiation Response Team trains to respond to incidents that include Chemicals, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives (CBRNE).
“We talk about CBRNE — explosives are always going to be taken by the FBI. If it’s chemical or biological, the HAZMAT teams have that, and they have proprietary ownership of that.”
That leaves radiological and nuclear situations to public health. Early on, Dr. Smith said, he participated in a drill in which the scenario was the crash of an airplane with medical isotopes on board.
“The fire chief, who was the incident commander, asked me, ‘Is this scene safe? Can we go home now?’ I figured I’d better learn something about this, and thus I started the journey, because public health has a responsibility.”
Dr. Smith works with members of MCHD’s Radiation Response Team to monitor events for any trace of radiation that might be harmful or contaminating. So far, the only detections have been from individuals who have been treated with nuclear medicine.
Also, nearly two years ago, Dr. Smith traveled to Ukraine to undergo additional training at the former Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.
“I think to me, ROSS is like the capstone,” Dr. Smith said. “I certainly was comfortable enough to go to Chernobyl with the training I had up to that point, with people who were Department of Energy experts who could keep me out of harm’s way.”
More information about the health department’s Radiation Response Team can be found at monchd.org/services/radiation-response-team-cbrn.