What is your role within the Strategic Communications Directorate at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission?
My official job title is that of Senior Communications Project Officer, which oddly enough does not speak to the entirety of my role. I am one of two senior communicators in our Public Affairs and Media Relations Division and the CNSC’s lead Account Executive for Crisis Communications. My primary role is to manage the CNSC’s emergency public communications program. In that capacity I have developed and maintain our crisis communications plans and protocols for the Strategic Communications Division. In addition, I play a significant role in the preparation and maintenance of the CNSC’s Crisis Communications website. Since joining the CNSC in September 2012, I have participated in various emergency exercises on behalf of the CNSC due to my role as Communications Chief in our Emergency Operations Centre.
On a day-to-day basis, I provide strategic communications support to clients within the divisions of Emergency Management, Corporate Security and Nuclear Security. That support includes providing communications advice, issues management and being the point of contact for other services provided by the Strategic Communications Directorate.
How did the March 2011 nuclear incident at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan affect your and your colleagues’ work?
As I did not join the organization until September 2012, I was not directly involved in the activity generated by the Fukushima incident. The CNSC was recognized for its public communications to Canadians following the Fukushima Daiichi accident. However, as a result of the accident, the CNSC developed a comprehensive communication and education strategy to enhance the organization’s ability to respond in the unlikely event of a nuclear accident in Canada. This includes the use of social media and expanding partnerships and relationships with various science media organizations that have the ability to inform the public concerning nuclear safety.
Several steps were taken towards improving communication and coordination with stakeholders and organizations involved in disseminating information related to nuclear safety. These steps include:
What advice would you give corporate crisis managers and communication leaders concerning the importance of crisis preparedness?
- launching social media tools (Youtube (www.youtube.com/user/cnscccsn) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/CanadianNuclearSafetyCommission)
- enhancing the CNSC website to include new content to better cover all safety-significant aspects of the operation of nuclear facilities and measures in place to deal with nuclear emergencies
- developing new educational initiatives such as an online and printed packages of educational resources and a Web-based interactive tools created to explain the nuclear fuel lifecycle
- increasing the CNSC’s international co-operation and participation in international forums to exchange best practices and lessons learned from the Fukushima crisis
I would underscore that being prepared is of critical importance. While it is impossible to anticipate how any crisis is going to play out, our role as communicators during a crisis is key to the efficacy of the overall response. And while it is important to have plans and protocols in place, it is practice that makes perfect. I have often seen nerves and unfamiliarity with processes get the best of people when an adversarial situation occurred. Regular exercising, whether it is table-top or full-scale, will build confidence and familiarity to the point that when a real crisis occurs your instincts will take over and things will go much smoother.
Our training at CNSC consists of emergency management and business continuity exercises. These are regularly conducted in participation with our major licensees, provincial and municipal governments and other federal government organizations. Individual members of the team seek training opportunities according to their personal learning plans and goals, which they establish at the beginning of each fiscal year. Corporate executives should consider following a similar approach.
How would you be involved in the Canadian government’s response to a nuclear incident?
In Canada, CNSC licensees are the onsite authority responsible for the management and implementation of onsite emergency response, in accordance with their regulator-approved emergency response plans and procedures. For emergencies which have an offsite impact, the provincial, territorial or municipal government is the appropriate responsible authority for offsite actions. Provincial and territorial governments have the primary responsibility for protecting public health and safety, property, and the environment within their borders.
Under the Emergency Management Act, the Minister of Public Safety is responsible for coordinating the Government of Canada’s response to an emergency. The Federal Emergency Response Plan (FERP) is the Government of Canada’s “all-hazards” response plan. The Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan (FNEP) is an annex to the FERP, providing the supplemental and specific multi-departmental and inter-jurisdictional arrangements necessary to address the health risks associated with a radiological or nuclear emergency.
During an integrated Government of Canada response to a nuclear emergency under the FERP/FNEP, all levels of government and various agencies and organizations have the responsibility to develop and implement emergency response plans to deal with the consequences and impacts outside the boundaries of the nuclear facility licensed by the CNSC.
The CNSC’s role is to provide assurance that appropriate actions are taken by the licensee and response organizations to limit the risk to health, safety, security of the public and the environment.
For nuclear emergencies involving licensed facilities and substances, the CNSC:
- performs regulatory oversight of the licensee’s activities (monitoring, evaluation of protective action recommendations, advice, assistance, and, when appropriate, direction in the form of directives and orders)
- performs an independent assessment of the onsite conditions and potential offsite consequences, to provide or confirm the licensee’s recommendations concerning any protective measures that may be needed
For nuclear emergencies not involving licensed substances, the CNSC plays a supporting role to the response under the FERP/FNEP. This includes (but is not limited to) providing technical assistance and support to the lead organization, in accordance with CNSC’s authorities and responsibilities. The CNSC also provides support to the whole-of-government response for nuclear emergencies involving non-licensees, such as foreign emergencies and malevolent acts.
My role as the Communications Chief in our EOC would be to manage the CNSC’s crisis communications response procedures in accordance with our plans and protocols, lead the emergency communications team, assess the public risk perception, and ensure that we are responding to the public and stakeholders appropriately with our messaging. This will be done in coordination with other federal government organizations.
How does the CNSC manage inquiries from concerned consumers?
The CNSC welcomes the inquiries, opinions and participation of the public. There are many different ways in which a concerned citizen can get involved. The public is free to participate in public hearings and meetings, and can provide feedback on draft regulatory documents. Each document is made available for public comment for a specified period of time. At the end of the consultation period, CNSC staff review all public input. Public comments are then posted for feedback on the CNSC Web site.
In addition, we have both an info telephone line and email account where the public can also submit questions and concerns and we respond to each inquiry in a timely fashion. Comments are also welcome on our Facebook and Youtube platforms. I would encourage everyone to visit our website at www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca
to find out more information and to explore the various ways that they can get involved.