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Fall 2009 Vol. 9 Number 2

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Longstanding Partnership Gets New Energy
Participants at the workshop “News and Terrorism: Communicating in a Crisis,” photos by Pam and Cable Risdon, Risdon Photography

The National Academy of Engineering’s successful workshop series “News and Terrorism: Communicating in a Crisis” held its 17th workshop in September in Baltimore. U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano set the stage for discussion, calling the workshop series — which began in 2004 — “an important investment” with the potential to develop more effective ways to collaborate during a crisis.

The workshop, moderated by Aaron Brown, former ABC News and CNN anchor, was designed to analyze communication of information among local leaders, journalists, scientists and engineers, and the public during an emergency. Using a terrorism scenario exercise, panelists had to respond to information that was presented to them.

The scenario in this workshop was a coordinated terrorist attack involving massive explosions in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and at City Hall from ammonium nitrate fertilizer bombs, as well as gunmen who fired on people at the scenes. Terrorists utilized live information and images broadcast by the media to target first responders and onlookers. The scenario also involved speculation that the terrorists had anthrax or biological weapons, calling HAZMAT responders to the scene. Social media was used by the terrorists as well as the public to share information.

Participants at the workshop “News and Terrorism: Communicating in a Crisis,” photos by Pam and Cable Risdon, Risdon PhotographySeveral reporters who participated in the three-hour exchange spoke about the lessons they learned. In particular, they expressed the importance of knowing the chain of command at federal agencies as well as having trust among agency staff, media, and experts, and that preparation for emergencies in advance is necessary. They added that social media could be useful or misused during a crisis.

NAE President Charles Vest said, “This project gives the National Academies and NAE an opportunity to engage with realworld people — journalists, first responders, government officials — to show the importance of accurate information flow; some of that is technical, scientific, and medical in its origin. We have an opportunity to play a positive role to help the nation better prepare for potential catastrophes.”

The project is a joint effort of the National Academies, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Radio Television Digital News Foundation. For audio recordings of Napolitano’s and Vest’s remarks, photos, and fact sheets, visit <>.
Maureen O’Leary

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Copyright 2009 by the National Academy of Sciences