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Thursday, June 21, 2012

More on transparency and crisis communications

This is a follow up piece to my recent post on the increasing need for transparency in crisis communications response brought by social convergence.

Now, the New York Times is examining the in-house report of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) who owns/operates the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. Their coverage is very illustrative of how totally inadequate the Japanese government's and TEPCO's own communications response have been (emphasis/bolding is mine):

Over the last year, new details of the disaster have emerged that build a picture of an organization that ignored or concealed that its reactors might be vulnerable to quakes and tsunamis, used its close links with regulators and nuclear experts to hijack nuclear policy and — since the accident — has worked vigilantly to shut out close scrutiny of the ravaged plant’s condition.
The report comes as the government is pushing to restore public confidence in nuclear energy and restart Japan’s reactor fleetCritics were skeptical. “The report is too full of excuses,” said Masako Sawai of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, an anti-nuclear policy group.
“If we don’t get to the bottom of this accident, how can we prevent future ones?” she asked.
If you're trying to learn from your mistakes and change things ... ensuring you have the ability to restore public confidence is key ... even better is ensuring you don't lose it in the first place by lying and not disclosing the information people need to stay safe during a disaster. A couple of excerpts from a NYT article of last August makes clear how this loss of confidence permeates everything after (emphasis/bolding is mine):

Given no guidance from Tokyo, town officials led the residents north, believing that winter winds would be blowing south and carrying away any radioactive emissions. For three nights, while hydrogen explosions at four of the reactors spewed radiation into the air, they stayed in a district called Tsushima where the children played outside and some parents used water from a mountain stream to prepare rice.
The winds, in fact, had been blowing directly toward Tsushima — and town officials would learn two months later that a government computer system designed to predict the spread of radioactive releases had been showing just that.
So we see above that government officials did not share information with local officials putting evacuees in danger. That danger proved considerable (emphasis/bolding is mine):

But the forecasts were left unpublicized by bureaucrats in Tokyo, operating in a culture that sought to avoid responsibility and, above all, criticism. Japan’s political leaders at first did not know about the system and later played down the data, apparently fearful of having to significantly enlarge the evacuation zone — and acknowledge the accident’s severity.
“From the 12th to the 15th we were in a location with one of the highest levels of radiation,” said Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie, which is about five miles from the nuclear plant. He and thousands from Namie now live in temporary housing in another town, Nihonmatsu. “We are extremely worried about internal exposure to radiation.
The withholding of information, he said, was akin to “murder.”
In the end it's very simple ... when governments, agencies or other organizations, betray the trust of their constituents, stakeholders, and/or clients ...it's gone forever ....No more so when you're dealing with a topic as sensitive and fraught with misinformation and rumours as is nuclear power.

Parents whose children have been exposed through deceit and incompetence to high level of radiation ... and are now experiencing high levels of stress ... will never forgive or forget ... who can blame them?


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