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County stocking up on bomb-shelter radiation testers

By PAT JENKINS

The Mirror

King County is buying Geiger counters that would be used to check evacuees for radiation before letting them enter emergency shelters after a “dirty bomb” attack.

Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way is among locations around the county where the monitors, purchased with money allocated through the federal Department of Homeland Security in response to the threat of terrorism, will wait for a “radiological event.”

The county’s plan was approved Sept. 9 by state and local officials, the latter countywide. The handheld monitors –– about the size of a transistor radio and the same kind as hospitals use –– were on order from their manufacturer, Fisher Scientific of Hampton, N.H., pending the intergovernment authorization. Eighteen of them now will be stored along with other supplies in large metal containers at around the county.

“Hopefully, we’ll never have to use them,” said Larry Kimble, a county Parks and Natural Resources Department official. But if terrorists detonate a bomb spewing radiological contamination, protecting shelters and their occupants from being contaminated “will be critical.”

During such an emergency, the parks department would be the primary agency responsible for coordinating 15 county recreation facilities that are designated as mass-care and emergency shelters.

“In a radiological event, ideally emergency responders would decontaminate victims at the scene,” Kimble said. “Then they would be screened again for radiation before entering a shelter.”

He noted the Red Cross wouldn’t deliver food or water to a site unless it “had been screened. Compromised sites would have to be closed down.”

The radiation monitors are part of a $90,000 Homeland Security grant. The county will also use the money to buy portable generators, lights and decontamination showers for shelters.

Dirty bombs mix explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive pellets or powder. When detonated, the blast carries the contamination into the surrounding area. Such bombs are considered by authorities as a possible scenario for a terrorist attack.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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