Public Messaging to Reduce the Impacts of Nuclear Terrorism

The March 11, 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdowns remind us the challenges in radiological emergency preparedness after a nuclear accident. A radiological emergency could also arise from terrorist acts or threats involving radioactive materials. These acts or threats are broadly categorized into radiologic events, which include the release of radioactive materials with or without a nuclear explosion.

I recently attended the annual meeting of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) which focused on assessment of national efforts in emergency preparedness for nuclear terrorism. The meeting covered topics ranging from plans and guidance, training and exercising for the first responder and first receiver communities, recovery and return, and communication.

In this blog, I will focus on one compelling public education and communication initiative presented at the NCRP meeting. This initiative was taken by the health department of Ventura County (located north of Los Angeles, California) to develop a pre-nuclear event public information campaign. Its goal was to educate the public as to what to do if they ever learned that a terrorist’s nuclear device was detonated nearby, probably in Los Angeles. Its primary objectives were to educate Ventura County residents how best to survive, stay safe and help others in the event of a nuclear explosion. The secondary objectives were to promote an ongoing dialogue locally and to encourage other jurisdictions across the nation to engage in this conversation as well.

Ventura County created a communications program that used traditional and social media to reach out to residents. The county held a series of town-hall meetings designed to put knowledgeable spokespeople in front of small groups, to answer questions and to offer reassurance while presenting the educational message. A website was launched to serve as an informational resource for residents, health professionals, and first responders. The presenter showed at the meeting educational videos that the county has prepared. The videos are informative and they have very simple messaging that the public can easily remember: Get inside, Stay inside and Stay tuned. You can watch two of them below.

Ventura County Health Care Agency. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jIs-Lwh6U0

Ventura County Health Care Agency. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGPetxZ3iMM

I found this initiative to be crucial to inform the public about preparedness in the case of nuclear explosion incidents. The Ventura County initiative can be readily understood and implemented by other counties or states to educate their residents and strive to reduce the impacts of nuclear terrorism.

About the Authors

Bemnet Alemayehu

Project Scientist, Nuclear program

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