The COVID-19 pandemic has raised important questions about resiliency and preparedness for other catastrophic disasters, including nuclear and radiological emergencies. A new NTI-commissioned paper by Major General Julie Bentz (ret.), assesses potential gaps. Based on interviews with dozens of response practitioners, Bentz concludes that more work is needed to adequately prepare the homeland for a public radiation emergency including detonation of a dirty bomb or an improvised nuclear device. Lessons highlighted include the need for effective communication strategies by federal, state, and local authorities to convey accurate and timely information to the general public taking into account the challenges of disinformation; increased training opportunities that involve federal, state, and local partners for high-risk, low-probability events such as a public radiation release; improved coordination among local, state, and federal partners, along with community organizations and volunteer associations; and greater emphasis on preparing individuals to take immediate action in the event of a radiation release. Moreover, as public health systems adapt and evolve to improve pandemic readiness, public health infrastructure should take stock of countermeasures for public radiation emergencies and address remaining gaps in equipment, training, and resources.
Julie Bentz is a retired major General of the United States Army National Guard. Much of her time on active duty was spent serving on three presidents’ security councils at the White House working to reduce global threats from weapons of mass destruction.