Response to Dirty Bombs

Basically, the principal type of dirty bomb, or radiological dispersal device (RDD), combines a conventional explosive, such as dynamite, with radioactive material. In most instances, the conventional explosive itself would have more immediate lethality than the radioactive material. At the levels created by most probable sources, not enough radiation would be present in a dirty bomb to kill people or cause severe illness.

However, certain other radioactive materials, dispersed in the air, could contaminate up to several city blocks, creating fear and possibly panic and requiring potentially costly cleanup. Prompt, accurate, non-emotional public information might prevent panic sought by terrorists.

Here is what people should do after an explosion:

  • Move away from the immediate area – at least several blocks from the explosion – and go inside. This will reduce exposure to any radioactive airborne dust.
  • Turn on local radio or TV channels for advisories from emergency response and health authorities.
  • If facilities are available, remove clothes and place them in a sealed plastic bag. Saving contaminated clothing will allow testing for radiation exposure.
  • Take a shower to wash off dust and dirt. This will reduce total radiation exposure, if the explosive device contained radioactive material.
  • If radioactive material was released, local news broadcasts will advise people where to report for radiation monitoring and blood and other tests to determine whether they were exposed and what steps to take to protect their health.

For more information, see Fact Sheet on Dirty Bombs.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, June 09, 2020