2.4 Communicating about Radiological Releases: An Interactive Session on Plume Predictions

Thursday, 22 June 2017: 11:15 AM
Salon III (InterContinental Kansas City at the Plaza)
Jessica Wieder, EPA, Washington, DC, DC; and A. Shogren and M. Laver

Whether a winter storm or terrorist incident, broadcast meteorologists are consistently considered one of the most credible sources of information for during an emergency by the public.  During a radiological emergency broadcast meteorologists could work with radiation experts to develop messages on where radioactive contamination is headed and potential dangers. Coordination among broadcast meteorologists and official sources of incident information will lead to a clear, consistent message on radiation plume movement during the early hours following an incident.

Having visuals and messages prepared in advance of a release will allow for a more timely and accurate portrayal of the radioactive plume. Pre-scripted plume products are needed to reduce the opportunity for sensationalist reporting due to speculation and the high-level of public concern that naturally comes when discussing a radiological release.

Should an intentional or accidental release of radioactive materials occur in the United States, providing people with timely and accurate information is a crucial part of safeguarding public health and maintaining public trust. A low level of understanding of radiation science and risk among lay audiences can lead to disproportionate levels of concern—either excessive concern or a lack of concern about personal protection.

In the last five years, the federal community has made great progress in enhancing communication with the public during a radiological response, including the creation of pre-scripted messages for improvised nuclear device detonation and nuclear power plant releases. However, as important as it is to have the most accurate words to portray radiological response efforts and data, it is equally as important to have visual methods for portraying that same information to the public.

The need for public plume maps is a lesson that has been identified during emergency exercises and was highlighted during the Fukushima nuclear incident when some Japanese communities evacuated into the radioactive plume due to lack of information.

A federal interagency working group – including members from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration, and Federal Emergency Management Agency— developed prototypes of early prediction plume maps intended for use with the public shortly after a radiological release. Determining the best way to share this information with the public during periods of such high uncertainty continues to challenge the scientist and communicators that have worked on these products.

We invite participants of the 45th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology to join us in an interactive breakout group to discuss the public plume prototypes, identify the strong messages, challenge our ideas, and suggest improvements for enhancing clarity and usability.

This work was performed under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under contract DE-AC52-07NA27344. The Department of Homeland Security sponsored part of the production of this material.


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