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Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth-Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies
Recommendation: The United States should take the lead in organizing and empowering a suitable international entity to participate in developing a detailed plan for dealing with the NEO hazard.
The lead U.S. representative to this group could be the chair of the standing committee, or the chair’s designee.
EDUCATION AND PUBLIC OUTREACH
Although popular movies raise general public awareness of the threat from NEOs, they do little to educate the public regarding the true risk to humanity and may result in significant misconceptions due to the highly distorted science presented. Most impacts occur in remote locations or over oceans and often go undetected or unreported, so that few people are aware of the true hazard associated with NEOs. Although the likelihood of a devastating impact in this century is very small, smaller objects may still do significant damage and may only be detected near impact. Thus mitigation efforts may be limited to civil-defense warning and the evacuation of threatened areas. As has been clearly demonstrated during evacuations for recent hurricanes and forest fires, civil-defense authorities must have clear, well-designed plans for response. Also, the public needs to understand the threat and respond appropriately should evacuations be required. The necessary education of authorities and the general population is challenging, as impacts can happen anywhere and hazardous events happen so rarely that people may not take the threat seriously. In order to increase public awareness of NEOs and their potential hazard, material needs to be introduced into the curricula for middle and high school students, using examples of impacts on Earth and their effects, as well as the record of impacts that can readily be seen on the Moon. Education and outreach activities about NEOs need to be coordinated to enhance community awareness through public events, displays, and activities at schools, planetariums, museums, libraries, and observatories. In addition, a publicly accessible, up-to-date Web site featuring the latest observations, historical events, and a nationwide activity calendar would do much to reach into the broader community. Such activities could be coordinated nationally through a center chosen in a competitive manner. Filmmakers could also be encouraged to produce engaging but scientifically accurate films on these general subjects; truth is usually stranger than fiction and can serve as a reliable anchor.
Schweickart, R.L., T.D. Jones, F. von der Dunk, S. Camacho-Lara, and Association of Space Explorers International Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation. 2008. Asteroid Threats: A Call for Global Response. Association of Space Explorers, Houston, Tex.