A global pandemic, civil unrest, and a volatile political climate have exposed the need for more advanced and strategic communication in uncertain times. Summit Exercises and Training (SummitET®) recognizes the uniqueness of strategic communications, particularly when communicating crisis and emergency risk communication (CERC). Radiation is a topic that is widely misunderstood and requires specialized CERC skills to address pre-crisis, crisis, and post-crisis messaging in order to meet stakeholder informational needs.
It is important for nuclear power plants and Offsite Response Organizations (OROs) to develop and practice effective strategic communication to meet training and exercise requirements such as:
- NUREG-0654 FEMA-REP-1, Criteria for Preparation and Evaluation of Radiological Emergency Response Plans and Preparedness in Support of Nuclear Power Plants;
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Radiological Emergency Preparedness Exercise Criteria identified in the Federal Registry Radiological Emergency Preparedness: Exercise Evaluation Methodology (66 FR 47526-47546); and
- State, local, and tribal requirements.
Response to COVID-19 has presented challenges in meeting training and exercise requirements since many in-person activities are not an option, however, SummitET has successfully made the pivot from in-person to virtual engagements to meet its customer’s mission requirements. SummitET’s Strategic Communications Program offers exercise solutions and training presented through its Strategic Communications Institute for Preparedness (SCIP), delivered by experts, including a Certified Health Physicist, with extensive knowledge of the unique challenges presented by a radiation emergency. This white paper describes SummitET’s virtual and hybrid training exercise solutions for nuclear power plants and OROs. These training and exercise solutions enhance strategic communications and address CERC principles such as effectiveness, consistency, and proficiency for a FEMA-evaluated exercise and when communicating technical information to non-technical audiences.
To meet regulatory requirements as outlined in 10 CFR 50.47(b)(7); 44 CFR 350.5(a)(7), training and exercise activities are conducted to ensure public education and information meet planning standards and evaluation criteria. Due to the inability of many nuclear power plants and OROs to hold in-person training and exercises, this requirement calls for an alternative approach. According to NUREG-0654/FEMA-REP-1, Rev. 2, “Alternative approaches provide an opportunity for state, local, and tribal governments, applicants, and licensees to meet the planning standards in a manner that is different from what the evaluation criteria recommend…” SummitET offers alternative approaches to meet training and exercise requirements using virtual and hybrid learning and exercise environments.
Strategic communications and CERC are an essential part of managing radiation emergencies. CERC fosters a common understanding of issues, protects public health and safety, and preserves organizational efficacy. Evidence-based CERC research and technical expertise make a critical difference in mitigating loss, maintaining trust and credibility, and strengthening relationships with stakeholders. All emergencies have a crisis and risk management component, yet there are few existing courses that teach both crisis AND risk communication. Scholars define risk communication as a science-based approach for communicating effectively in situations of high stress, high concern, or controversy. The Centers for Disease Control defines crisis communication as the process of providing facts to the public about an emergency, beyond an organization’s control, that involves the organization and requires an immediate response. The crisis may cause harm to an organization’s reputation or viability. In real-world emergencies and training exercises, effective communication continues to be identified as a gap. Particularly, communicating scientific information of science-related information can be an even greater challenge. Organizations should integrate CERC into incident response. CERC integration improves outcomes by effectively engaging stakeholders and promoting a coordinated communication response.
In a high-consequence scenario, both internal and external communications should be addressed. The ability to work with stakeholders such as transient populations, those with access and functional needs, regulatory agencies, and employees is critical for an effective communication response. Failure to adequately communicate risk serves to exacerbate the potential for miscommunication. Consequently, it is critical for nuclear power plants and OROs to collaborate with subject-matter experts to develop strategic communication and integrate CERC skills and processes for planning and performance in a crisis scenario. Particularly during COVID-19 response, the ability to deliver in-person training and conduct exercises has been drastically hampered, although training and exercise must continue to be conducted.
SummitET® experts are recognized as leading professionals in the development of strategic communications programs and hosts the SCIP, which offers in-person, virtual and hybrid training programs that extend beyond typical baseline training offered for those responsible for communicating prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery information for radiation emergencies. Our subject-matter experts are highly experienced, trained, and internationally known, current, and former communications professionals. Our team is comprised of a Certified Health Physicist with over 20 years’ experience responding to domestic and international radiation emergencies. Other subject-matter experts are experienced in radiation emergency response, strategic communications, state/local government and private sector emergency management, preparedness planning, federal law enforcement, and hazardous materials. They are skilled in helping organizations assess, plan, and build capacity to effectively manage and message internal and external communications for all-hazards and threats. This includes developing strategies for CERC communications, reputation management, digital and social media, internal communications, community education, and media relations practice. SummitET’s programs include a wide range of trainings, drills, tabletops (TTXs) and practical exercises designed to prepare communicators and senior leaders through informed, innovative, and dynamic instruction offered nationally and internationally.