Distinguished Staff Award
Radiological Release Response Team

Radiological Release Response Team

53 awardees from the School of Medicine, Environmental Health & Safety and Harborview Medical Center

Nominated by Katia Harb, Senior Director, Environmental Health and Safety Department

Awarded 2020

This letter is to nominate and express my strong support for the University team members who responded to an unprecedented radiological material release at the University’s Research & Training Building at Harborview (R&T).

On the evening of May 2, Cesium-137, a fine powder, was accidentally released from an irradiator being prepared for removal by a federal contractor as part of a federal off-site source recovery program.

This was an unprecedented event in many ways and impacts from this release continue to have a significant impact on University research and operations for many units. As a result, the University President issued a declaration of “Extraordinary Circumstances” and mobilized a multi-department response team to respond to the emergency and support the ongoing remediation and recovery efforts. The impacts of this release cover areas of worker and public health and safety, environmental protection, research continuity and integrity, animal care and welfare, among others.

The primary University units involved in the initial emergency response are the Environmental Health & Safety Department (EH&S), School of Medicine, and Harborview Medical Center. After the initial emergency response efforts, several additional University departments became and are still involved with supporting the ongoing remediation and recovery efforts. These units include UW Facilities, Risk Services, Office of Research, and the Assistant Attorney General’s Office, among others. This multi-department coordinated response effort is being led and strongly supported by Margaret Shepherd in the University President’s Office. Although many units are still involved with the ongoing recovery efforts, this team nomination is focused on those deeply involved in the initial emergency response efforts before the federal emergency response assistance teams arrived on site.

Many people from these departments have gone well above and beyond their routine duties and work schedules and expectations to provide the exceptionally high level of support required in a highly stressful, changing and fast moving emergency response environment. Employees worked essentially around the clock seven days a week the first few weeks as the University was waiting federal response teams to arrive from around the country. The immediate emergency response efforts included the following:

Caring for the exposed workers on site and in the emergency department and employee health clinic. Phil Campbell, Mike Zittle, Joyce Chambers, Tim Fredricksen, Dr. John Lynch, Dr. Esi Nkeyer, Liz Kindred.

Ensuring the perimeter was properly secured and impacted areas contained. Mike Zittle, Joyce Chambers, Eleanor Wade, Mike Young, Amy Lim, Doug Gallucci.

Ensuring that the research animals were cared for and safe. Lesley Colby, Laura Campbell, Doug Gallucci, EH&S and Comparative Medicine Pre-Entry Assessment Teams.

Ensuring irreplaceable research samples were relocated when freezers began to fail as temperatures in the building elevated due lack of building ventilation. Then, restoring the building ventilation. Nicole Gibran, Mike Young, Eleanor Wade, Scott Nelson, Eric Stefansson, Tony Han, Liz Kindred, Mike Warren, Mike Young, Pam Jorgensen.

Supporting the lab and researcher needs to access and secure critical equipment, data, and research sample. Nicole Gibran, Mike Young, Kim Wisecup, EH&S.

Coordinating with regulatory and response agencies. Mike Zittle, Phil Campbell, School of Medicine.

Preparing the contaminated source and related equipment for complicated removal to a proper disposal facility. Phil Campbell, Mike Zittle, Kevin Makinson, Denise Bender, Scott Nelson, Eleanor Wade.

Sampling nearby buildings and public areas to ensure public health and safety. Eleanor Wade, Phil Campbell, Mike Zittle, Liz Kindred, Mike Warren, Pam Jorgensen.

Continuing to assess and clean the building to ensure safe temporary access and that all areas are appropriately characterized and cleaned. Phil Campbell, Mike Young, Nicole Gibran, Mike Warren.

Communications and Media Inquiries: Tina Mankowski, Susan Gregg, Karen Crow Ensured that consistent and accurate and up to date information was developed and provided to ongoing inquiries by the media, members of the surrounding community, and members of the Harborview and University community.

Supporting the removal and containment of biological and chemical agents in the building. EH&S: Nicole Gibran, Taylor Heiss, Matt Moeller, Alex Hagen, Tracy Harvey, Zara Llewellyn, Eric Stefansson.

Ensuring critical building systems were operational and maintained. Mike Warren, Mike Young.

Significant and frequent internal coordination with multiple UW departments and external agencies involved in the response efforts.

Below are some key contributions of these departments. Please note, these letter only provides a sample of the expertise, dedication, collaboration, and stamina demonstrated by these outstanding team members to support this major effort.

EH&S Department: Key personnel first month: Phil Campbell, Mike Zittle, Joyce Chambers, Jennifer Johnson, Amy Lim, Corbin Powell, Pre-Entry Assessment Team, Scott Nelson, Denise Bender, Doug Gallucci, Eleanor Wade, Karen Crow, Meli Ahumada. EH&S key role in leading the response efforts and coordination with federal and state agencies and coordinating with University Units. Working diligently and under unknown and under changing conditions to support health and safety, environmental protection, containment, site clean-up and remediation, oversight of remediation activities, liaison with regulatory agencies. In the month of May alone, EH&S staff dedicated more than 1,700 hours to the emergency response.

Harborview Medical Center: Kera Dennis, Liz Kindred, Pam Jorgensen, Mike Warren, Alieu Ann, and Dr. John Lynch. The staff and operations at nearby HMC were significantly impacted by this event and they have been key members of the response efforts attending daily meeting, overseeing contract work, ensuring the ongoing health and safety of their employees, patients, and the public and their campus. They also ensuring security was provided to ensure the safety of the irradiator source while it was on campus.

School of Medicine (SOM) Department of Comparative Medicine: Efforts Led by Dr. Lesley Colby and Laura Campbell. Provided animal care seven days a week with strict safety protocols and logistical challenges due to the elevator being out of service for several days. Waste and supplies were manually carried on steps and through tunnels. Additional monitoring training and procedures were required. Moving animals to other facilities at the end of the month.

SOM Dean’s Office: Efforts led by Dr. Nicole Gibran, Mike Young, and Kim Wisecup: Ensuring critical needs of the impacted research community were met. This included ensuring equipment could be safely removed to other temporary labs outside the building, and securing critical equipment and experiments, and relocating labs to other buildings. Given Dr. Gibran’s research was significantly impacted by cesium release, her contributions are especially remarkable. Mike Young responded to the building facility needs the evening of the release and has been a dedicated member of the response team since. Each day he tends to many building facility and HVAC issues, responds to floods, alarms, and ensures the building envelope and systems are functioning.

View All Past Recipients