Helping Homeland Security Personnel Learn About Radiation
R. H. Johnson, Jr.
As America gears up for the prospects of nuclear terrorism, more and more security, fire, and police staff, among others, are learning about radiation for the first time. Many of these people approach the prospects of exposure to radiation with trepidation based upon images of terrible consequences they expect. For many people, radiation automatically brings up very negative images such as nuclear bombs, terrible devastation, disfigurement, cancer, and death. Unfortunately, these images may prevent trainees from learning from even the best-prepared and -presented class on radiation safety. In addition to images that may prevent hearing new information on radiation, we also have a middle brain that acts as a filter on what is transferred to long-term memory. In addition, the middle brain is also the source of our emotions and fears. The middle brain of a person who is fearful or under stress may prevent that person from hearing the reality of radiation as presented by a radiation expert. Thus, our emotions play a key role in what we remember. Real learning may only occur when the student is calm, comfortable, trusting in the instructor, and open to hearing new information. Thus, helping homeland security personnel learn about radiation is more than a matter of presenting good technical information on radiation. It involves instruction in a way that allows the middle brain to pass along the information to the thinking brain for rational analysis and understanding. This means the instructor needs to consider ways to reduce stress and resistance to learning. Effective instruction is a process that enables students to relate new information to what they already know or can identify with, or to experience that they have had. The process also involves repeated evaluations of radiation risk perceptions, questions, and understanding as you gently introduce new information on radiation that may confront all that students have heard before. Humor can also help lower barriers and reduce resistance to learning. The approach that seems most helpful uses "show-and-tell" as much as possible to take the mystery out of radiation. Comparisons of the radiation sources of concern (such as x-ray security screening devices) with the radiation signal from radioactive antiques is helpful to provide perspective on magnitudes of potential radiation exposures.
This abstract was presented at the 38th Annual Midyear Meeting, "Materials Control and Security: Risk Assessment, Handling, and Detection", Emergency Response Planning and Programs Part I Session, 2/13/2005 - 2/16/2005, held in New Orleans, LA.