Broadcast Meteorologists and Pre-event Messaging for a Nuclear Public Health Emergency
Charles W. Miller, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA; and M. C. McCurley
Research sponsored by the Radiation Studies Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that the American public might very well look to their local broadcast meteorologist for help and direction in the event of a terrorist attack involving radiation, such as a an explosive radiological dispersal device, i.e. a “dirty bomb,” or an improvised nuclear device, much as they currently do for natural disasters (such as tornados and hurricanes). The public indicated they are familiar with their local broadcast meteorologist and they trust the information they receive from this source. In response to this research finding, CDC has partnered with the AMS Committee on the Station Scientist to provide public health messages and training materials that will allow broadcast meteorologists to provide life-saving information to the public during a public health emergency involving the release of radioactive materials (see http://www.ametsoc.org/stationscientist/radiological_dispersion.html). These materials can prepare broadcast meteorologists with answers to many of questions they and their audience will have in the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency.
Effective communications with the public will be especially critical in the event of an attack involving an improvised nuclear device. In the immediate vicinity of the attack, accurate information must be available as quick as possible to help save lives in the aftermath of the massive explosion, fires, and dangerous fallout. As the fallout from the detonation moves downwind, levels will quickly become too low to be immediately life-threatening. However, measureable levels of radiation from the blast will be found many kilometers downwind, and people will be very concerned about the potential long-term adverse impact on their health.
A group of agencies from within the Federal government is working together to develop a coordinated, multi-agency set of messages for the public that can be used in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear detonation. These messages are being designed to be applicable at a time when hard data are often lacking. They are based on the best scientific information available, including the latest atmospheric dispersion modeling, which can be used to predict the range and magnitude of the effects of such a detonation. Any information that is available immediately following a detonation will be highly uncertain, and, as a result, public messages will likely have to be modified as new information becomes available. This uncertainly will increase the challenge of communicating effectively with the public throughout the event.
In addition to these pre-event messages, the Interagency Modeling and Atmospheric Assessment Center (IMAAC) is developing templates for briefing products that can be provided to State, local, and tribal decision makers to assist them in making appropriate decisions for protecting the health and welfare of impacted people. These proposed briefing products will include maps forecasting the location of the various levels of destruction and the movement of the fallout cloud. These briefing products could potentially be made available to broadcast meteorologists for use on the air during an emergency.
Broadcast meteorologists have two important activities they should become involved in concerning both the pre-event messages and the IMAAC briefing products that are being developed. First, they must become familiar with these products so they can effectively use them during a nuclear or radiological emergency. Second, they should review all of these products for clarity and usability, and provide appropriate feedback to the product developers so all of the products will be as useful as possible. These activities will significantly strengthen our nation's ability to provide life-saving information to the public during a public health emergency involving the release of radioactive materials.
Session 7, Disaster Mitigation
Friday, 25 June 2010, 10:20 AM-11:50 AM, Napoleon III
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