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Action 7: Test and Train the System
Integrate, test, and conduct training on the above elements of a comprehensive fallout preparedness and public warning system.
When effective, an integrated preparedness and public warning system enables populations to act swiftly and correctly on protective guidance, thus reducing casualties. Such a system incorporates technical, organizational, social, and human elements.36 A continual process of advance planning, training, exercising, and evaluating are necessary to establish and strengthen linkages among all these elements.59 As jurisdictions move forward through the phased implementation of fallout preparedness actions—from obtaining community support to planning an informed, phased evacuation—the information gathered through the process should be used to update existing plans across phases.
Citizens, officials, and emergency personnel should be aware of fallout protection plans and what is expected of them under these plans.60 For instance, citizens should be prepared to seek adequate shelter, and schools should have plans on the books to keep students safe from radiation. Regular training will ensure that current personnel as well as those new to the fallout hazard are familiar with priorities, goals, objectives, and best courses of action.28 The training can also help to identify and address the concerns and information needs of emergency responders and others regarding a nuclear incident.61,62 Everyone—from individual citizens to emergency professionals to journalists (who will be key communicators with the public)—should know where they can get actionable information regarding the fallout plume and evacuation routes. In the case of radiation, a mapping and monitoring group should be trained to compile and produce plume information as soon as possible. These abilities will also need to be tested.
Participation in preparedness exercises enhances perceptions of response knowledge and teamwork.28 Exercises that involve the public serve to inform citizens about the radiation threat, increasing knowledge on what they should and should not do through a more “real” experience.60 Tests that involve multiple agencies also allow these agencies to develop a history of interaction and cooperation that will facilitate their response in the highly complex scenario of a nuclear detonation.60 Exercises should include emergency personnel as well as the private sector, schools, faith-based organizations, volunteers, and other community groups and should be integrated with ongoing pre-incident education programs regarding fallout protection.
Interagency coordination and roles should be among the first aspects of fallout protection tested so that officials have a clear understanding of who is in charge and who is authorized to release messages to the public. A public warning exercise with prepared messages should also be undertaken in early phases of fallout protection planning in order to understand the warning distribution system and how messages will be conveyed in situations such as large-scale blackouts and EMP damage. All exercises should include an after-action report that captures information and lessons learned from the exercise and includes remedial action processes as necessary.28
Fallout protection plans should be considered “living documents” to be revised and changed as new information from exercises, from events, and on capabilities emerge.28 Exercises may indicate that some goals, objectives, decisions, actions, and timing outlined in existing fallout plans need to be reevaluated; operational failures or weaknesses may be identified and need to be addressed in subsequent plans. After exercising the plan, role reassignments and procedural changes may become necessary. Changes in community make-up and resources will also alter plans. As a jurisdiction improves its radiation monitoring abilities, for instance, this may lead planners to reevaluate which information sources have priority for triggering warning messages. Planners should be aware of lessons and practices from other communities that are improving their fallout preparedness plans.