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Irshad Manji

Keep calm, carry on (and devise a nuclear exit plan) Add to ...

A few days ago, this paper began a report about Japan like so: "[Prime Minister Naoto Kan]acknowledged the country was facing a dangerous nuclear crisis, and urged Japanese to 'act calmly'… What he didn't say was that he and his government have the situation under control. Because they don't."

Forget the potassium iodide pills - where's the Xanax?

Even without that blunt assessment, though, I've been anxious about the crisis in Japan. Like many people, I want to know what it means for the rest of us.

For me, the stakes feel that much higher because I have a mother, sisters, nieces and nephews on the west coast, in both Canada and the United States. If there's more fallout, they could be on the front lines.

What, then, to do? Feel powerless? Lose (more) sleep? Find that Xanax?

None of the above. In our digital era, I keep one fact in mind: The media vessels that can overwhelm us with information and misinformation can also be used to draw strength, serenity and, on occasion, wisdom.

On Monday, that's what prompted me to post a message to my Facebook community: "Need your advice, please. I can't stop thinking about the damaged nuclear plants in Japan. My family lives on the Pacific Rim. Any radiation will reach them before many of us, although us too. Not assuming a full meltdown will happen, but if it does, Lord have mercy. How do you suggest I - and all of us - keep calm and carry on?"

The responses flooded in, shaped by customs and experiences from around the world. Here's a glimpse of how our planet handles peril:

Marc wrote, "As a person who grew up near Three Mile Island … there is no 'keep calm and carry on,' only 'stay informed, pay attention, devise an exit plan and include their neighbours [in]your thoughts.' "

In the spirit of staying informed, Alex posted that an iodide tablet "cannot prevent radiation, it can only help protect the thyroid after a person has been hit by radiation. Stay indoors and wash frequently." Her analysis has since been validated by physicians.

Also, tune out once in a while. According to Dave, who has worked with disaster victims for years, "taking in too much information at one time can lead to feeling … paralyzed." Set aside a few minutes (or hours) every day to digest what you already know, he said - de-stress before returning to the Web.

Likewise, warned Phillip, "don't give into alarmism." David reminded us that "bad news sells. Good news is no news." And Bishwa chimed in, "Listen more to scientists on this particular issue, not to the senior international political correspondents pulled out from 'not so hot any more' Egypt." Ouch - but fair enough.

A science-conscious website I can recommend is Greenpeace.org. There, the public's questions are answered by nuclear policy analyst Jim Riccio. When I visit the "Fukushima Nuclear Disaster" section of the site, my dogma meter doesn't go haywire. Replies seem level-headed, even - dare I say - calm.

If you're into action plans, surf the site of the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness. Its "Get Ready Program" guides individuals, families and small businesses to survive the first 72 hours of a massive upheaval when hospitals, for example, may be engulfed.

These ideas can help not only to handle a larger amount of radiation from Japan. They can also prepare us for the possibility of terrorists deploying "dirty bombs" - explosive devices that unleash radioactive waste over large areas. Why wait for such a scenario to unfold before figuring out the next steps?

At the start of the Second World War, the British government produced a poster designed to boost national morale. Against a red background were emblazoned the bold words: "Keep Calm and Carry On." But the war generation didn't see this poster. It was to be issued only if Germany invaded Britain - which, happily, never happened.

What I wouldn't give to say the same about today's multiple nuclear threats. So I pray for the Japanese reactor workers who insist on exposing themselves to radiation in order to contain the harm to everyone else.

Thank them. That's action item No. 1.

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