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Message Testing for a Nuclear Detonation

How ORISE is Making a Difference

For the average person, radiological contamination is a confusing and fearful concept. To help prepare our America for the possibility of a radiation emergency, ORAU works with the CDC and FEMA in support of The Nuclear Detonation Response Communications Work Group, a federal interagency group of communication and radiation subject matter experts that has developed key messages to provide the public with guidance during the immediate aftermath of a nuclear detonation.

As participants in the Work Group, both the CDC Radiation Studies Branch and FEMA were asked to conduct research to test the effectiveness of messages developed by the Work Group with the public. Both selected ORAU, as the managing contractor of ORISE, to help them deliver high quality communication materials under a tight deadline.

Within just eight weeks, ORAU established a team, project plan, research protocol, and submitted Office of Management and Budget and Institutional Review Board applications for the CDC’s message testing project. After obtaining OMB and IRB approval, ORAU coordinated the production of a short film that depicted a nuclear explosion, while setting up research facilities and other logistical requirements needed for the project. In addition, ORAU supported FEMA’s contribution to the Work Group with a separate message testing effort and development of video footage portraying additional public messages. 

The message testing projects included a combined total of 21 focus groups conducted in five major U.S. cities. With travel budgets growing tighter, ORAU provided Work Group members with the ability to observe the focus groups via live webcasts.

Focus group

These focus groups provided significant feedback that resulted in major revisions to the original nuclear detonation messages. Following the Fukushima nuclear crisis, this research directly informed national communication strategy and was used by the White House National Security Staff, as well as other federal agencies to communicate more effectively to American citizens in Japan, as well as those in the United States.

Through ORISE, ORAU continues to provide additional message testing and research support to the Work Group. The Work Group member agencies include CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the American Red Cross, and the Veterans Administration.

ORISE is managed by ORAU for the U.S. Department of Energy.