Nuclear Regulation:

Public Knowledge of Radiological Emergency Procedures

RCED-87-122: Published: Jun 2, 1987. Publicly Released: Jun 2, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the actions the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and utilities take to familiarize people living within the 10-mile-radius emergency planning zones (EPZ) around commercial nuclear power plants with the procedures they should follow if a nuclear accident should occur.

GAO found that: (1) although FEMA is responsible for ensuring the adequacy of off-site emergency plans at nuclear power plants and has periodically conducted surveys to determine whether EPZ residents have basic emergency planning information, it has not assessed whether the public knows what to do in the event of an emergency; (2) as part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's plant licensing process, FEMA assesses the adequacy of state and local off-site emergency preparedness; (3) the regulations governing development of radiological emergency plans do not specify how utilities should educate the public on emergency procedures; (4) in 1980, FEMA developed a lengthy questionnaire to assess EPZ residents' knowledge of emergency procedures, but the Office of Management and Budget denied it permission to use the questionnaire because that might have resulted in an excessively burdensome survey; and (5) although FEMA believes that assessing public knowledge is within its responsibilities, it has not revised and resubmitted its survey proposal. FEMA believes that, although it does not formally assess the level of public education on emergency procedures, its work with the utilities to improve their public education programs has been effective because utilities have: (1) changed their information brochures' format and style; (2) changed the reading level of the brochures to coincide with the particular geographic area; and (3) used different materials.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FEMA disagreed and stated that it ensures annual distribution of emergency information so the public knows the actions it should take during an emergency. FEMA works with state and local governments to assess the public's need for information and devise methods to meet those needs. FEMA feels that its resources are best used for public education and coordination between organizations.

    Recommendation: The Director, FEMA, should develop a survey to assess EPZ residents' knowledge of radiological emergency procedures. In doing this, FEMA should first explore the possibility of expanding its current EPZ survey to include questions on this issue.

    Agency Affected: Federal Emergency Management Agency


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