Yesterday a spectacularly large fireball descended from space upon the southern Ural region, in central Russia, and exploded sending meteorite fragments over Chelyabinsk. The whole city suffered shattered windows, which is not trivial in winter weather, and over a thousand people needed medical attention. Emily Lakdawalla has collected a nice set of image/video links, and the infrasound community is all atwitter too.
The authorities cannot be expected to respond correctly when things like this happenthey are only a little less prone to error than the rest of us. It's clear to me that we can learn from some of the good and stupid responses in Russia.
On the good side, we have the authorities. Emergency responders were quick to check radioactivity and report that there was none. Meteorites are not radioactive, but there are satellites up there with plutonium power supplies so it was good that they made sure. Teams with expertise in chemical and biological protection were put on alert. That's useless for meteorites, but a good thing to do in general. The mayor of Chelyabinsk announced, "Do not panic, this is an ordinary situation we can manage in a couple of days."
On the bad side, we have the authorities. A local newspaper ran an item claiming that the military had shot the meteor down with a missile! Someone at the emergency management agency falsely claimed that they had sent a mass SMS warning. Not so, the agency later clarified, and said it would fire the person responsible. [source] Politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky announced, "Those aren't meteors falling, it's the Americans testing new weapons."
Then we have the sensible people. Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, made the point that no government in the world has a system in place to do anything about these world-threatening objects. Dmitry, meet the B612 Foundation.