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January 4, 2012
Learning From the Failures at Fukushima
 
Effective crisis response requires systematic planning and training in advance, a commitment to seeing a challenging situation through, regardless of fears or embarrassment, and unflinching honesty. An opportunity to appraise the degree to which these elements were missing at Japan's Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station last March is now available in a preliminary report on that horrendous industrial accident.  
    
Read it for an eye-opening experience in emergency management. The Japanese thought they were acting responsibly in their operation of the plant, but an unexpected dual challenge — an earthquake and tsunami — proved otherwise. Presuming they read this Fukushima report, managers everywhere need to be asking themselves, "What surprises might be in store for me in my own operations, and have I planned adequately to respond to them?" Such planning, of course, includes making honest, empathetic statements to the public. 

A friend of ours in the U.S. nuclear power industry writes on the Fukishima report, "Ugh… a rather scathing assessment of their emergency response. 

"I think part of the problem is humans are hard-wired for optimism; we tend to believe that the worst will never happen (and we are usually right). Years ago when they were building these plants, I bet no one (including the regulators) said, “Let’s design the plant for the worst possible events imaginable, not just the most probable events. Yes it will cost 50% more to build it, but it’s worth it.

"It’s sort of like asking Detroit to make cars that can withstand a 70 mph collision, not just a 35 mph one. It can be done, and if we did it we know we would save what, maybe 25,000 lives a year?  If we don’t do this for events we know with certainty will occur, we won’t do it for very unlikely events.

"The only saving grace is that existing plants are now re-analyzing their accidents, hardening emergency generators, etc., and the (U.S.) Nuclear Regulatory Commission is making plants adopt changes so they can survive several days without offsite power. We’ll all be a little safer because of this..."


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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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