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Local Rescue Workers Hope To Learn From Japan Disaster

SYOSSET, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Local rescue workers are keeping a close eye on the crisis in Japan, watching and learning in case of a similar disaster in the Tri-State.

As the wounded nuclear reactors continued to bleed radiation into Japan's atmosphere, authorities scrambled to keep people safe from harmful emissions. Radiation scanners that function much like metal detectors were being constructed to take readings, while voluntary checkpoints were springing up around the country.

Here in the Tri-State, all eyes were on Japan. Mary Mahoney is director of emergency preparedness at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, where their regional command center monitors world events, reports CBS 2's Jennifer McLogan.

"Colored triangle tells us this is a hazmat incident; the others tell us of earthquakes and tremors," Mahoney said.

The staff has spent the days after the earthquake in Japan looking, listening, and learning.

"Are we prepared, should something like that happen here?" Mahoney said. "Do we have the right training, do we have the right equipment ready to go, are we ready to deploy at a moment's notice?"

Their radiation and biological hazards training center is constantly updating and changing, bringing in the most sophisticated equipment, like an isotope identifier.

"A point-and-shot type of thing, and within a matter of a couple of seconds, will identify the actual radioactive material," Mahoney said.

Personal dosimeters can be strapped to your belt to measure exposure, while handheld Geiger counters track radiation on a broader scale – "if a person becomes contaminated from a nuclear accident," Mahoney said.

A portal monitor scans cars and people.

"Any type of contamination on a vehicle or person will be picked up by this meter," Mahoney said.

The radiation and gas detector can sniff out trouble in the air from two miles away.

"[It] feeds it back to a central computer, almost like a remote command post," Mahoney said.

The medical community said experts are constantly monitoring the situation overseas, but that it's unlikely emissions would travel all the way to the East Coast from Japan.

So many New Yorkers are concerned about radiation from Japan blowing our way that they've made a run on potassium iodide pills, which can offer some protection against radiation sickness. However, a seaweed-based supplement, kelp, is still stocked on shelves, and if you are really worried, experts say it can be just as good at protecting thyroid glands.

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