Knowing the unknowns: Uncertainties during radiological emergencies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Institutes & Expert groups

  • EEAE – Greek Atomic Energy Commission
  • UA - Universiteit Antwerpen
  • CIEMAT - Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas
  • EIMV - Milan Vidmar Electric Power Research Institute
  • NMBU - Norwegian University of Life Sciences
  • Universität Stuttgart

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Emergency management implies making decisions under uncertainty. Though this is a truism, uncertainties faced by different actors during radiological emergencies have not been investigated as intensively as other emergencies
and lack a systematic analysis during realistic conditions. Hence, the goal of this study is to identify and analyse the uncertainties that may appear during radiological emergencies. Furthermore, this research explores among which actors and at which stages of decision-making process these uncertainties appear.
For this purpose, non-participatory observation has been used during 11 nuclear or radiological emergency exercises in the period of 2017–2018 at 29 observation points in 6 countries and 1 international exercise. The
observers recorded actual behavior of different actors (participants of the observed exercises) under live conditions.
Results provide valuable insights into the complex decision-making process related to actions taken for the protection of individuals and society at large during realistic exercises of a radiological emergency. Most uncertainties
synthesized from our observations are related to the practical implementation of emergency actions, e.g. the potential for unexpected failure of communication tools or channels, or the inadequacy of emergency
plans to cope with the real situation. A high number of uncertainties were also associated to knowledge gaps, e.g. related to the consistency of radiological assessments or the insufficient familiarity of emergency actors with the
rules and procedures. The findings of this study can inspire emergency planners and other stakeholders to strengthen radiological emergency management, advance emergency response practices, and improve communication
and collaboration between different actors in emergency situations.


Original languageEnglish
Article number102240
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2021


  • Uncertainties, Emergency management, Radiological and nuclear emergencies, nuclear accident

ID: 7097269