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Communicating with the Public in a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency

Effective communication with the public in a nuclear or radiological emergency is considered one of the most important aspects of emergency management as it helps to mitigate risk, support the implementation of protective actions and contribute to minimizing fear. Communicators engage interested stakeholders, including the media, already as a part of routine operations, emergency preparedness and potential emergency response. During an emergency response, the communicators coordinate consistent messages to be used from the local to the international level. The messages should be delivered in a timely, clearly understandable, accurate, objective, honest and empathetic manner to continually answer the public’s query “Am I safe?” During routine operations, the public may perceive minor disruptions as emergencies, so that communicators are often the first to act to address public concerns and to correct misperceptions.

Sharing information with the public and the media during an emergency requires special preparation. The IAEA has published the "Communication with the Public in a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency" and "Method for Developing a Communication Strategy and Plan for a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency"to support Member States with regard to communication during a radiological or nuclear emergency.  The most important action is to develop an effective communication plan for emergency situations, with practical arrangements agreed in advance. This should include a contact list of involved institutions, responsible people and others to be communicated with, along with the nomination of a well-trained spokesperson and established internal and external coordination with procedures and instructions. These plans should be tested, evaluated and adjusted based on the feedback.

For more information on past nuclear events and lessons learned, please visit the IAEA Publication on Accident Response.

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