[Previous] | [Session 14] | [Next]
C. R. Chapman (Southwest Res. Inst., Boulder), B. M. Mulligan (Queen's Univ. , Kingston, Ontario, and CIRES, Univ. Colo. at Boulder)
Astronomers are unaccustomed to practical matters like warning society about dangers. The NEO impact hazard has thrust new responsibilities upon us, which have been dealt with previously by other specialties, involving hurricanes, space weather, earthquakes, terrorism, etc. We discuss some lessons from the problems and successes of other warning scales. For example, a failing of the Torino Scale (TS) mirrors a failure of the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS, "terrorism scale"): it doesn't clearly tell ordinary folk what they should do; it says that TS=1 events merit "careful monitoring," a task for astronomers, not the public. The Red Cross has augmented the HSAS to separately advise individuals, families, neighborhoods, businesses, and schools what they should do; the TS could be similarly improved. The recent 2002 NT7 media scare was exacerbated by public use of the Palermo Technical Scale (PTS), which was not intended for such use, rather than the appropriate Torino Scale. Seismologists have more successfully avoided public confusion while internally debating different earthquake scales.
Astronomers need to empathize with the needs of science journalists and communicators and with the low level of scientific comprehension by the public, who may be genuinely scared by mispresented cosmic hazards. A single warning scale should be used by all astronomers, should be very simple (e.g. one-dimensional), should have a public face that is consistent for years and decades (even if some fine-tuning is done behind the scenes in calculating values), and should suggest how a prudent person should react to a given hazard level. The TS has been used widely for several years by the popular media. It should remain the tool that we use to put particular impact predictions into context. While leaving the numbers and colors the same, we could augment and clarify the public advice. We could also make technical tweaks to how values are calculated. For example, it is possible to technically define Torino Scale values in a way more directly converted from PTS values.
If the author provided an email address or URL for general inquiries,
it is as follows:
Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 34, #3< br> © 2002. The American Astronomical Soceity.