How to inform the public about protective actions in a nuclear or radiological incident: a systematic review

19 October, 2018

CITATION: How to inform the public about protective actions in a nuclear or radiological incident: a systematic review

Louis Gauntlett, MSc, Richard Amlôt, PhD, G James Rubin, PhD.

The Lancet Psychiatry 2018



Studying how the public behaves after a nuclear emergency will help to assess overall morbidity and mortality. Pre-event education might help to shape behaviour, but how best to engage people with emergency communications for low likelihood, high-impact events is unknown. We did a systematic review to identify factors that predict behaviour in preparation for a nuclear incident, factors that predict behaviour in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear incident, and preferences among members of the public for information designed to educate them about which actions to take in the event of a nuclear incident. In general preparedness, behaviour was predicted by factors including perceived coping effectiveness and having children, among others, but absence of preparedness was attributed to fatalistic attitudes. Importantly, for pre-incident communications to be accepted and recommendations adhered to, the source had to be trusted and perceived to be credible. However, it is notable that family needs, such as picking up children from school, were a stronger predictor of behaviour in a nuclear emergency than communicated directives from authorities. If pre-incident education about nuclear incidents is to be used, several factors—including the source and method of communication, the content, and format of messaging—might increase public engagement with messages and promote the uptake of protective behaviours in a radiation event.

'Advances in the capability and willingness of terrorists and state actors to use unconventional weapons have drawn attention to the possibility of catastrophic attacks against civilian populations...

If such events happen, public reactions will play a substantial role in determining eventual mortality rates...'

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Information for Citizens, Parents and Children:

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA:

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 18,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on five global forums in three languages. He also currently chairs the Dgroups Foundation (, which supports 800 communities of practice on international development, health and social justice. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: