International asteroid warnings: standing up a system?

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I’ve posted a report (see left menu) on the results of a recent workshop held to tackle challenges in communicating about near-Earth object (NEO) hazards and NEO impact mitigation.

I was co-organizer and co-facilitator of the workshop and co-author of the workshop report, along with Laura Delgado Lopez of Secure World Foundation (SWF). SWF hosted this workshop, which was organized at the request and for the benefit of the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN), an international group of organizations involved in detecting, tracking, and characterizing NEOs. IAWN was organized in response to a United Nations (UN) recommendation and operates independently of the UN.

Our workshop, held in September in Colorado, brought together a diverse group of experts from the NEO science, risk communication, policy, and emergency management communities to provide communication guidance and advice to managers and directors of IAWN member programs and institutions, including NASA and the European Space Agency. (I am a consultant to NASA’s NEO Observations Program on communication issues.)

One interesting recommendation that came out of the workshop is a proposal for a new, non-probabilistic scale for characterizing asteroid impact hazards and impact effects – that is, an impact effects scale.

Even if the NEO community chooses to adopt some sort of impact effects scale, it will still, IMHO, need to work on a better way of characterizing impact probabilities and risks. Many members of this community have come to understand that their Torino and Palermo scales, developed for use among experts, are not especially effective in communicating with non-expert audiences. A major challenge in communicating with non-experts about probabilistic risk assessments is that non-experts may not be cognizant of all the uncertainty surrounding these assessments.

The workshop report has been distributed to members of the IAWN Steering Committee. The Committee has not yet reviewed the report and thus has not yet endorsed or adopted any of the recommendations that came out of the workshop. (See p. 3 of the report for the recommendations.)

Stay tuned.

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