Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Quelling public panic when every rain storm is a potential Dirty Bomb.

New York City today is staging an example of how to gain public confidence and reduce public panic in the event of a Dirty Bomb (or as it is known in the post-Fukushima world, a rain shower).

NYC's first responders are trotting out their dirty bomb hunting equipment in a field exercise - “We’ve distributed, both in the New York City Police Department and other agencies throughout the Metropolitan Area 4,200 radiation-detection devices”. The efficacy of hunting for a dirty bomb in a fallout zone is sort of dubious, and will be come more so as the Fukushima disaster drags on.

But, the exercise is a very good example of lessons learned from the 1987 Goiânia cesium release in Brazil. That radiological incident was caused by a roughly 1 inch tall by 1.5 inch diameter cylinder that contained 1 ounce of Cesium Chloride (compare that to the potential 19,000 tons of uranium in Fukushima) which was broken open at a junk yard.

The result of that incident was that a city roughly the size of Manhattan had 130,000 people (10% of its population) rush to the emergency room. Of those, 250 people were contaminated and 20 required treatment. Imagine the same result in New York city.

The key things that drove the panic in Goiânia Brazil was a lack of trust of/ in governmental capabilities, the uncertainty of the unknown, and a public knowledge of the Chernobyl incident. By holding this well publicized and openly visible five day long dirty bomb drill, NYC is attempting to lay the ground work to prevent a Goiânia type disruption to the every day function of the metropolis. The fact that they can simultaneously hold clandestine radiological field sampling exercises is also of great benefit. (as per the "early-phase" Radiological Dispersal Device playbook)

It would be an interesting data mining exercise for someone at Google to correlate an increase in purchases of personal/family preparedness equipment with/to the population of first responders who are taking all those radiological survey readings over NYC during the next 5 days. I wager that no news outlet is going to press NYPD or NYFD about quickly and openly releasing those radiological surveys. I also wager similar field surveys are happening more clandestinely on the west coast.

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