Carnegie Corporation, MacArthur Foundation Award $500,000 to Stevens to Raise Nuclear Terrorism Awareness for Public Education

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“Reinventing Civil Defense” Project will research, educate, create, communicate about issue of nuclear terrorism

Stevens professors Kristyn Karl, Julie Pullen and Alex Wellerstein

Stevens professors Kristyn Karl, Julie Pullen and Alex Wellerstein

The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded a trio of Stevens Institute of Technology faculty researchers $500,000 to broadly assess and redefine U.S. civil defense, studying how to communicate the latest science and technology to educate the public about the threat of nuclear terrorism — as well as what measures to take if a nuclear event occurs.

Stevens is one of 11 organizations -- representing university research centers, think tanks, and other organizations from the United States and across the globe -- to receive funds. These grants, totaling $4.4 million, will support projects aimed at reducing nuclear risk through innovative and solutions-orientated approaches.

College of Arts and Letters professors Alex Wellerstein and Kristyn Karl and School of Engineering & Science professor Julie Pullen will rely upon an unusually diverse advisory board of defense, academic, technology and artistic professionals to seed sub-projects including ideas for public education campaigns, VR simulations, games, apps and other communications. They will also host two conferences devoted to analyzing the results of those projects.

The inspiration for the new project, says the researchers, was a growing sense that current generations may not fully appreciate the threat of nuclear terrorism in cities such as New York.

While the United States maintained active federal civil defense programs during much of the Cold War, those were discontinued after criticism they were useless in the face of growing nuclear arsenals. Today, however, interest is reviving in those planning approaches as rogue-state nuclear weapons become increasingly potent.

"The United States hasn't been doing atmospheric tests since the1960s, and that's a good thing, but for many reasons the issue of civil defense has literally gone underground, dropped off the landscape," notes Wellerstein. "We'll be exploring how to reintroduce this concept, in ways more dramatic than a simple web page, lecture or news story."

Improved science and increasingly detailed simulations allow for new forms of communication, which can be effective in delineating best practices when preparing and planning for nuclear scenarios.

The Stevens project will both involve a few flagship projects as well as the solicitation, approval and seed funding of a host of smaller sub-projects aimed at dispensing good information accurately and memorably.

"We are very excited about the diversity of this project," concludes Pullen. "We have early, mid-career and even emeritus faculty — such as School of Business emeritus professor Edward Friedman, a key contributor — represented on our project, we have advisory board members spanning these career phases and diversity represented in other important dimensions as well. This project represents a convergence of tools and approaches."

A kickoff workshop in spring 2018, held at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, will assemble practitioners from the emergency response community and other interested stakeholders to develop lessons from past practices and understand current approaches, note the Stevens researchers. One year later, a second workshop will be convened on the Stevens campus to experience and evaluate newly developed communications tools.

Read more about the “Reinventing Civil Defense” project at Stevens Institute of Technology.

About Stevens Institute of Technology
Stevens Institute of Technology, The Innovation University®, is a premier, private research university situated in Hoboken, N.J. overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Founded in 1870, technological innovation has been the hallmark and legacy of Stevens’ education and research programs for more than 145 years. Within the university’s three schools and one college, 6,600 undergraduate and graduate students collaborate with more than 290 full-time faculty members in an interdisciplinary, student-centric, entrepreneurial environment to advance the frontiers of science and leverage technology to confront global challenges. Stevens is home to three national research centers of excellence, as well as joint research programs focused on critical industries such as healthcare, energy, finance, defense, maritime security, STEM education and coastal sustainability. The university is consistently ranked among the nation’s elite for return on investment for students, career services programs and mid-career salaries of alumni. Stevens is in the midst of a 10-year strategic plan, The Future. Ours to Create., designed to further extend the Stevens legacy to create a forward-looking and far-reaching institution with global impact.

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Katherine Cutler