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At Conference, White House Aide Calls For Public Education On What To Do After Nuclear Detonation

July 6th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I wanted to post an interesting report released today summarizing the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC’s conference, “Preparing to Save Lives and Recover After a Nuclear Detonation: Implications for U.S. Policy”.

The Center “convened the invitational meeting to examine critical issues associated with response to and recovery from a nuclear detonation and to consider the policy implications of those issues.” It took place in late April in Washington, D.C., and I had intended to attend but was not fully recovered from treatment.

An important aspect of the gathering was examining the role of the public before and after a nuclear incident. And, in fact, according to the report, White House aide, Dr. Tammy Taylor (Senior Policy Analyst, National Security and International Affairs Division, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, The White House) “noted that it is essential to educate people in advance because officials will not have accurate information immediately, and protective action will be effective only if people know what to do directly following the detonation.”

One of the “challenges” the conference examined was: Advance Education and Post-event Communication. And, according to the report:

The public needs advance knowledge and information: With advance information about nuclear fallout and ways to protect themselves from dangerous exposure, the public could take action after a nuclear detonation that would save tens of thousands of lives. The first and best protective action is to find adequate shelter and stay there until officials provide additional information and instructions.

However, as Mr. [Brooke] Buddemeier [from the Global Security Directorate of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories] emphasized, the decisions with the biggest lifesaving effect will be those made in the first minutes or hours following a nuclear attack, but they often are not technically informed decisions and may, in fact, be counterintuitive. For example, people may think first of fleeing when it would be safer to stay put in adequate shelter.

Effective communication will be critical: To save lives, U.S. government (USG) policies and programs should focus on rapid, straightforward delivery of 3 key messages for survivors: A nuclear detonation has occurred nearby; Immediately seek adequate shelter, such as a basement or a room in the interior of a building; and Wait for more information and instruction before evacuating. Sheltered individuals should stay put for at least 24 hours following the detonation unless authorities provide different instructions.

At the end of the report, the Center offers several steps that the U.S. federal government should take now to prepare for effective response and efficient recovery following nuclear detonation:

Pursue pre-event education and communication with communities: Prepare the public to recognize and seek adequate shelter and to refrain from evacuation unless otherwise instructed by government officials.

Improve medical response capacity: Continue to support healthcare preparedness activities and pre-event development of strategies for triage, implementation of crisis standards of care, and transport of large numbers of survivors to locations where they can receive medical care.

Direct research toward better characterization of levels of persistent radiation: This research should be prioritized as it will inform efforts to forecast acceptable levels of radiation. Without that ability, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to encourage repopulation of contaminated areas.

Anticipate and address long-term recovery challenges: Specifically, recovery plans must address mass displacement of populations; the needs of individuals, families, and host communities; and efforts to return people to their homes.

Congress should take action to remedy vulnerabilities in presidential succession, reconstitution of the House of Representatives, and continuity of the U.S. government.

The full conference report — which was prepared by Nidhi Bouri, Ann Norwood, and Tara Kirk Sell — can be found along with the agenda, speaker list, and video of some of the panels here. The conference was sponsored by the Alfred E. Sloan Foundation.

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Tags: Nuclear Terrorism · Preparedness Events

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