June 23, 2015, Mississauga, Ont. – There was a lot of good information (and acronyms!) at the Canadian Nuclear Society’s technical meeting on fire and emergency response last week. The industry spends money and commits a ton of time and resources to adequate and appropriate emergency planning and response.
But I got hung up on a brief discussion about social media.
Dave Nodwell, manager of planning exercises with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, was asked how the province would handle rumours about radiation levels or spread during a crisis.
Not that scuttling rumours on social media is Mr. Nodwell’s purview, but given that he spoke Thursday morning about the misinformation disseminated through Facebook and Twitter after Fukushima in 2011, I hoped to hear that the province is thoroughly prepared – indeed, overly prepared.
“The problem,” he told delegates during his presentation, “is that media exacerbate the problem – we all saw that after Fukushima. People believed it and it was all over the Internet.”
Nodwell explained the importance of messaging and social media, which, he said, is “a game changer in this business.”
He talked about the necessity of staying ahead of story (definitely), establishing a credible presence (absolutely), of being compelling and persuasive (perfect).
“Governments don’t really put out press releases that fast,” he said. “It takes hours, and that’s not acceptable when people are tweeting and facebooking within seconds. In some cases, [social media] is probably the only way to reach a segment of the population.”
Later, in the question and answer session, Nodwell was asked whether the province had identified a hashtag or hashtags for use during a nuclear emergency, and about mitigating rumours and misinformation.
Admittedly, Mr. Nodwell said, he finds hashtags confusing (many delegates nodded in agreement), and, he said, the province’s communications people deal with that.
“The first step,” he said, “is monitoring what’s going on in social media . . . You need a team that is stuck to Twitter and Facebook to monitor what is happening in order to respond to what’s going on. We’re never going to get there in its entirety – it’s going to be continually evolving.” Good point.
Nodwell said the province has prepared a number of bulletins relative to each nuclear facility in Ontario that can be sent out “in a heartbeat.” Excellent. But, he acknowledged, “that doesn’t really address concerns that are out there in social media.” Exactly.
Another positive point: quicker high-level OKs for social-media messaging.
“This has been put in place,” he said. “Normally, in large government organization there are a large number of approvals that public communications need to go through.”
Cleary, he said, in an emergency situation – nuclear or otherwise – time is critical.
As for hashtags – Nodwell wasn’t sure if any have been designated, and, to be fair, it’s not really his job to know such details, but would be good information to share.
Quashing rumours and bad information?
“The process is there but there’s a long way to go,” he acknowledged.
An honest answer, but a frustrating one given the magnitude of resources at the province’s fingertips and the significant efforts of the nuclear industry to ensure safety and solid messaging.