Communicating Radiation Risk Using the Radiation Hazard Scale

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released the Radiation Hazard Scale to help state and local jurisdictions describe the health risks associated with radiation exposure following a radiological emergency. The Radiation Hazard Scale, designed to be an easy-to-use communication tool to help persons unfamiliar with radiation health effects understand radiation risk and potential risk reduction when following the recommended protective actions, does not utilize radiation measurement or units to convey meaning, but instead uses colors, categories, and short descriptions to describe potential risks. The tool, designed specifically for radiation emergencies that have short-term exposure durations (a few days), can be used to provide protective action instructions to members of the public such as sheltering-in-place or self-decontaminating based on which category a person is likely to fall into. The tool should not be used for medical triage or management of radiation injuries.  Public communication experts and persons with little radiation expertise have reviewed the Radiation Hazard Scale to ensure that it conveys radiation risk easily and effectively with no prior training or knowledge of the topic.

How to Use the Radiation Hazard Scale

Local health departments will likely have to work with radiation control experts, environmental health staff, and/or health physicists in their communities to assign risk categories to certain groups or geographic regions in the aftermath of a radiation emergency. Additionally, emergency management agencies, public health officials, and public communications officials will likely need to be engaged to plan the implementation of the scale and to craft the public messaging and protective actions associated with risk categories found in the scale. Examples of the Radiation Hazard Scale to describe risk over geographic areas are available for Improvised Nuclear Device, Nuclear Power Plant, and Radiological Dispersal Device scenarios. Additional expertise from the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC), Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center (FRMAC), CDC, the Environmental Protection Agency, those with training in Geographic Information Sciences (GIS), and other Federal stakeholders may also be needed to create maps using the hazard scale. Additional guidance on using the Radiation Hazard Scale is available on the CDC website.

Radiation Risk Communication Resources

Additional resources for radiation risk communication available on the CDC website include:

  • CDC Radiation Resource Library: Communications and Public Information (website)
  • Myths of Radiation: Communicating in Radiation Emergencies (videos)
  • Radiation Basics Made Simple (videos)
  • Training for Poison Control Centers on Radiation Risk Communication (training)
  • Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Online and In-Person training (training)
  • Radiation Thermometer (website)
  • CDC Radiation Resource Library: Infographics (website)
  • Protective Action and Educational Videos (videos)
  • Radiation Dictionary (website)
  • Public Health Radiological/Nuclear Preparedness Webinar (webinar)

For questions on how to use the Radiation Hazard Scale or to provide feedback on the tool, please contact CDC Radiation Studies (

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