Department of Defense Response

Shortly after initial news reports of the devastating earthquake and tsunami surfaced, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) began responding to the developing situation in Japan in order to protect health and prevent illness. These response activities were centered in Japan, Hawaii, and in Washington DC.


In Japan and Hawaii:

To evaluate the magnitude of the potential health threat, external radiation dose measurements were made with portable radiation detection equipment at U.S. installations in Japan, on naval vessels, and in mission areas where DOD Service members were deployed. Special DOD radiation health, environmental health, and emergency response teams from the continental United States and Okinawa were also deployed to Honshu Island, Japan, to augment the U.S. DOD capabilities within the U.S. Forces Japan region. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) accident response teams were also deployed to the area. Extensive air sampling was conducted by DOD and DOE accident response teams and on DOD installations in the region. DOD installation water supply systems were radiologically monitored by DOD, DOE, and numerous Japanese authorities. Water samples were collected from a variety of sources, including the ocean, surface water bodies, rain water, and household tap water. Soil was also assessed for radiological contamination by DOD and DOE response teams, and a number of Japanese entities. Additional actions were taken by the DOD to ensure that radioactive contaminated food and bottled water did not reach the U.S. DOD-affiliated population. This included suspending the procurement of bottled water (except as noted below for bottled water) and all subsistence items grown in or produced from food sources in areas with high levels of radioactive contamination and increasing the surveillance of facilities and food products to detect contaminated products in shipments. All told, environmental and radiological monitoring data were collected by all four DOD military services (Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy), specialized U.S. DOD and DOE teams, and as well as the Tokyo Electric and Power Company (TEPCO) and Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT). This data was then used in calculating doses for those areas on the Japanese mainland where the majority of the DoD population was located from March 12, 2011 to May 11, 2011.

Military commands within the Pacific/Japan area, including U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM), U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ), and the Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMPACFLT), also took a number of separate actions to protect the health of the DOD population on mainland Japan. These included releasing health protection guidance to control radiation exposure, establishing criteria for entry into hot and warm zones around the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station, and publishing guidance for distribution and consumption of potassium iodide (KI) for protection against radioactive iodine inhalation/ingestion. Service members who entered warm or hot zones have had their levels of external and internal radiation measured via external and internal monitoring (for inhaled or ingested radioactive particles), respectively. This internal monitoring program was later expanded to provide voluntary testing to other members of the DOD-affiliated population in Japan, including Service members who did not deploy into the warm or hot zones, as well as family members, civilians, and contractors. All told, over 8,500 individuals had their external or internal levels of radiation measured directly.


In Washington DC:

Four days post-earthquake and tsunami, Sen. Murray (WA), Chairperson of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee (SVAC) contacted the Secretary of Defense and expressed concerns about health risks to U.S. Service members providing disaster response in Japan and urged DOD to create a comprehensive database of all U.S. Service members supporting the Japanese relief effort along with their exposures. In response, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness [USD(P&R)] informed Sen. Murray that the DOD was working with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure that affected Service members were being appropriately monitored for exposures and that the DOD was going to create a comprehensive database to include all affected Service members and DOD civilians, their family members, and DOD contractors.

This database became the Operation Tomodachi Registry (OTR). At the request of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs [ASD(HA)], the Army Institute of Public Health (AIPH) served as the lead organization for the creation and operation of the OTR. The ASD(HA) also requested that the Director, Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI) establish a Dose Assessment and Recording Working Group (DARWG) with technical and acquisition support provided by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) that included subject matter experts in radiation health from the Military Departments (Army, Navy, Air Force) in order to assess and record radiation doses for the DOD-affiliated population on the island of Honshu between March 12, 2011 and May 11, 2011.


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