Our interactive features invite in-depth exploration of complex topics
in health security, biosecurity, and preparedness and response.
Checklist Action 1: Build Your Support Base
Obtain broad community backing and understanding of nuclear incident preparedness to sustain the program over time.
Fallout preparedness is a broad community concern. There is no single entity that can deliver this public service. Sound emergency management structures and strategies are essential, as is expertise in radiological control, but so too are efforts by business, schools, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and average citizens.
Mobilizing a community to confront a potential nuclear detonation will require a political catalyst—whether the jurisdiction’s chief executive, an issue champion with the expertise and organizational legitimacy to promote readiness, or a disaster planning body that can marshal a broad base in support of nuclear preparedness.25 Such leadership is necessary to overcome both active and passive resistance to advance planning for a nuclear emergency. In general, people tend to discount preparedness because disasters are infrequent and because they believe that such tragedies happen to other people. Some individuals fatalistically assume that little can be done to limit losses, while others reject emergency planning out of fear that more immediate community concerns such as crime and education will receive less attention and resources. The prospect of preparing for a nuclear detonation will likely exacerbate such attitudes. A further complication may be that some authorities wrongly assume that raising the issue of nuclear terrorism will panic people. Past experience, however, has taught us that leaders often underestimate the public’s ability to handle difficult issues.
The most realistic and complete emergency plans are developed when diverse government departments and agencies work alongside representatives of the entire community, including leaders from business, public utilities, education, and community- and faith-based groups.28 Inclusion of all community stakeholders in emergency planning conveys the reality that everyone shares in the responsibility for public safety, especially in this case when personal preparedness and protective actions can save many lives. Moreover, inclusive planning strengthens the public motivation for people to undertake planning for themselves and their organizations.28 A partnership approach to emergency management helps to generate resources (eg, ideas, skills, funding, and momentum), advance public understanding and buy-in, and diminish agency turf battles as people coalesce around a common goal—all conditions necessary for successful nuclear response planning.29 Local and regional news media will be essential participants in the fallout preparedness coalition, as they can report on the life-saving benefits of nuclear incident preparedness and on initiatives to educate residents on key protective actions. Existing coalition groups such as citizen corps councils, local voluntary organizations active in disaster, and local emergency planning committees can facilitate needed partnerships with the community. Communities can integrate fallout preparedness into strong, pre-existing coalitions capturing the momentum and commitment that already exists around other hazards and disasters.
Radiation professionals from both private and public sectors should be fully integrated into nuclear emergency planning. Depending on the jurisdiction, radiation control programs may reside within a public health or emergency management agency or be free standing. Few localities have their own radiation control programs, and most must rely on a state agency (New York City and Los Angeles are exceptions). Volunteer radiation experts from industry, healthcare settings, and research universities are natural allies in carrying out pre-incident public education. Following a detonation, they can relay trusted public warnings and perform population monitoring and other assistance at community reception centers (CRCs), shelters, hospitals, and other locations where potentially contaminated people may converge.30 Jurisdictions should establish relationships in advance with local, state, and/or regional chapters of radiation professional organizations (eg, Health Physics Society, American Association of Physicists in Medicine, Society of Nuclear Medicine, American Society for Radiation Oncology, National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists, American Nuclear Society, Conference of Radiation Control Directors [CRCPD]). Planners are encouraged to consult CRCPD guidance (2011) on recruiting, credentialing, training, exercising, and deploying such volunteers.30 Some jurisdictions are already incorporating volunteer radiation professionals into preexisting volunteer programs like the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC).
People with disabilities and others not traditionally included in emergency preparedness planning—including the hearing- and vision-impaired, elderly people, non-English speakers, ethnic minorities, and communities distrustful of government—are more likely to suffer the impacts of a nuclear detonation because they are not well-positioned to receive, trust, and act on meaningful protective guidance. Agencies and nonprofits serving these groups, however, can provide insights for emergency planning and help promote the dissemination and uptake of critical safety information by their clients. Emergency planners can also benefit from consulting community-serving nonprofits about conditions that might inhibit or facilitate people’s movement to safety, especially among disadvantaged, disabled, or distrusting groups. Community-serving nonprofits and faith-based organizations should also ensure their own continuity of operation by incorporating into their existing emergency plans procedures for reducing the exposure of employees and clients (when on the premises) to fallout.
Knowledge of the physical effects of a nuclear explosion as well as attributes of the people and properties in harm’s way can facilitate local planning for fallout protection. Local emergency professionals should take advantage of the state-of-the-art modeling and analysis developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Applied Research Associates and/or work with their local universities to prepare regional maps that chart the basic anatomy of a nuclear detonation and a range of fallout predictions.6,31 At a minimum, jurisdictions can overlay local and regional maps against projections devised for other cities. At the request of Congress, the DHS Office of Health Affairs has already coordinated efforts to model the effects of 0.1-, 1.0-, and 10-kiloton nuclear yields in New York City, Washington, DC, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. (For illustrative maps using Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, see Buddemeier & Dillon 2009.6) Actual fallout patterns will depend on the real-time conditions of weather, weapon yield and location, and other variables that are hard to predict. Nonetheless, visual representations can raise awareness of the risk environment and set planning expectations—both among emergency professionals and the larger population.