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U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Radiation Emergency Medical Management (REMM)

How to Perform a Survey for Radiation Contamination
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How to survey - Front of person How to survey - Back of person

Source of graphic: Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site (REAC/TS)1
  • Perform survey instrument check2
    • Check instrument for calibration certificate
    • Perform battery charge check
    • Select desired survey mode
    • Obtain and record background reading
  • Position person to be scanned1
    • Standing upright on a clean pad
    • Feet spread slightly
    • Arms extended from body, palms up, fingers extended from the hand
  • Conduct survey1
    • Hold the pancake probe ~1/2 inch from the surface being surveyed.
    • Scan surfaces at a rate of 1-2 inches per second.
    • Pass the probe over the body in a systematic way over the front, back, sides, head, armpits, groin, soles of feet, etc.
    • Hold the probe over areas of elevated readings for ~10 seconds to determine the "count rate."
    • Scan one side of the body at a time; repeat systematically on the reverse side.
    • Record survey results or "count rates" on a body chart diagram (PDF - 49 KB) before and after each decontamination cycle.
  • For radiation events involving alpha particles or low-energy beta particles, consult a health physicist.
  • CAVEAT: In a large mass casualty setting
    • Acceptable levels of residual contamination may be revised upward by authorized response leaders3,4
    • Acceptable levels of residual contamination
      • Originally specified in a key 1992 EPA document as <2 times existing background levels5
      • Newer guidance documents recommend considering a value of counts per minute (CPM) over background, taking into account several factors including3,4,6
        • The number of people who need to be surveyed
        • The type and settings of the survey equipment used
        • The type of contamination identified (alpha, beta, gamma)
        • The pattern of contamination identified (loose, fixed, both)
  1. How to Detect Radiation (Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site (REAC/TS))
  2. Management of Persons Contaminated with Radionuclides: Handbook (NCRP Report 161, Volume I), National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, Bethesda, MD, 2008, Chapter 5: Performing Surveys and Controlling Personnel and Area Contamination.
  3. Handbook for Responding to a Radiological Dispersal Device, First Responder's Guide - the First 12 Hours (PDF - 4.26 MB) (Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors, Inc., September 2006, Decontamination Guidelines, pages 35-38)
  4. Population Monitoring in Radiation Emergencies: A Guide for State and Local Public Health Planners (PDF - 3.66 MB) (HHS/CDC, August, 2007, pages C-5 through C-7, D-1 through D-3)
  5. Manual of Protective Action Guides and Protective Actions for Nuclear Incidents (PDF - 13 MB) (EPA, 1992, EPA 400-R-92-001, pages 7-23 through 7-25)
  6. Background information on FEM-REP-22: Contamination Monitoring Guidance for Portable Instruments Used for Radiological Emergency Response to Nuclear Power Plant Accidents (PDF - 643 KB) (FEMA, October 2002)