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Forest Service expands efforts to improve wildfire response in Ukraine


Public relations specialists from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the USDA Forest Service discuss some of the ways in which they communicate messages about wildland fire to the public. Photo courtesy of Petro Pavlychenko.

UKRAINE — Many Americans are aware that, in 1986, a catastrophic accident occurred at the Chernobyl Power Plant in Ukraine that spread radioactive contamination over a large area of the former Soviet Union and Europe. What most are not aware of is that today the area around the accident site, which is one of the most contaminated areas in the world, is blanketed by dense forests. Under the right circumstances, wildfires that burn there have the potential to spread radioactive contamination in smoke.

With funding from the U.S. Department of State, the International Programs office has been working with a variety of partners in country for the last 12 years to address the growing risk of wildfire in the area around the Chernobyl accident site, which is known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. These efforts expanded this February 19-23 as agency public affairs staff traveled to Ukraine to, for the first time, deliver presentations and provide training in public information and communications during wildfires.

Jennifer Jones, public affairs specialist with the Washington Office Fire and Aviation Management Program, and Michael Williams, public affairs specialist with the Southern Region Office, delivered a presentation on public information and communications during wildfires to senior officials from several Ukraine state agencies attending the 5th National Coordination Meeting on Prevention and Safe Suppression of Wildfires in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Jones and Williams also provided a day long training in public information and communications during wildfires to approximately 25 press services staff from several Ukraine state agencies with roles and responsibilities in wildfire management in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Participants were especially interested in how the Forest Service and other wildland fire agencies in the U.S. use web based tools such as InciWeb and the Enterprise Geospatial Portal to communicate directly with the public about wildfires.