Disaster Mitigation 101: Have a media strategy

From Flikr user "Simply Info"

As someone with a longstanding interest in the media coverage of Fukushima and how it seems to exculpate the nuclear industry, I was struck last night by a passage from  Eric Schlosser’s fascinating new book “Command and Control“. In it he outlines the recommendations of a top secret 1959 RAND report — authored by one-time MIT professor and Undersecretary of Defense, Fred Iklé — concerning how the US should manage the publicity fallout from an accidental nuclear bomb detonation. Schlosser quotes directly from the report:

“If such an accident occurred in a remote area, so that leakage to the press could be prevented, no information ought to be made public. […] If the accident has been compromised and public statements become necessary, they should depict the accident as an occurrence which has no bearing on the safety of other weapons.”

The report further recommended that the crisis be drained of its immediacy by establishing an authoritative “board of inquiry” that would take several months to reach its conclusions. Schlosser quotes again:

“During the delaying period the public information program should provide the news media with all possible news about rehabilitation and relief. There is always a strong and continued interest in such news after a disaster. Within a relatively short time the interest in rehabilitation tends to crowd out reports about destruction and casualties.”

Any parallels with Fukushima are, I am sure, entirely coincidental.

(Page 195 on my kindle, for anyone interested to read further.)


3 Responses to “Disaster Mitigation 101: Have a media strategy”

  1. Anne Harrington October 1, 2013 at 7:39 PM #

    Shocking, but not surprising. Sounds like a great book.

  2. Anne Harrington October 1, 2013 at 9:00 PM #

    From the Guardian (someone over there is also reading Schlosser’s book): “US nearly detonated atomic bomb over North Carolina – secret document”

    “A secret document, published in declassified form for the first time by the Guardian today, reveals that the US Air Force came dramatically close to detonating an atom bomb over North Carolina that would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima.

    The document, obtained by the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act, gives the first conclusive evidence that the US was narrowly spared a disaster of monumental proportions when two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on 23 January 1961. The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.”


    Here’s the official government assessment from 1960: “Stay Safe, Stay Strong: The Facts about Nuclear Weapons” http://archive.org/details/StaySafe1960

    My favorite bit is at minute 20:00:

    So how safe is a nuclear bomber coming in for a crash landing?
    “…the possibility of an accidental nuclear explosion is so small as to be practically nonexistent…you and your family may live in peace, free from the fear of nuclear accidents”

  3. John October 1, 2013 at 9:24 PM #

    Great find.
    It’s sort of bemusing that every new revelation of near nuclear catastrophe, of which there are now so many, is depicted as a revolutionary find that turns everything we thought we knew on its head. But I guess that’s journalism.

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