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Science in Emergencies

Posted 25/05/2016

An RSE working group has responded to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's Inquiry into Science in Emergencies, with the focus on Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) incidents.

The UK Government has been able to learn lessons from previous emergency situations, including the H1N1 (2009) influenza pandemic and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (2011). However, the Science and Technology Committee's recent report on the Ebola epidemic demonstrates that preparation for an infectious disease emergency is less robust that it ought to be.

The RSE response comments on the following key aspects:

- There is a need to examine the extent to which the UK is prepared for potential consequences arising from the onset of a combination of (connected) incidents (e.g. the triggering of multiple incidents in the Fukushima Daiichi disaster).

- An important consideration is capacity requirements (infrastructure, facilities and skilled personnel) for meeting CBRN threats. Any assumption that capacity which is not formally retained in key technical and specialist areas can be scaled-up during emergencies needs to be challenged.

- While scientific advice must be available to governments to help inform CBRN assessments and responses, the role of the scientific community is not to determine policy: that is for Government.

- The need to ensure coordination across the multiple advisory groups operating in an emergency.

- It is essential that social and behavioural scientists are involved in CBRN science advisory groups.

- Public communication is a vital part of preparing for and responding to CBRN emergencies. The Government's communication with the public should be led be a spokesperson who not only has the authoritative technical competence, but also the ability to synthesise complex information and present it clearly.

The full response can be viewed here.


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