Improving Risk Communication to Save Lives and Property during Disasters

Improving Risk Communication to Save Lives and Property during Disasters

Improving Risk Communication to Save Lives and Property during Disasters

Effective communication can save lives and reduce economic damage during the response and recovery phases of a disaster. Despite widely available information on creating effective risk communication and warning messages to elicit desired public outcomes during and following disasters, communication attempts fail too often.

For example, on May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado swept through Joplin, Missouri, killing 158 people. Many residents were slow to heed the timely tornado warning due to alert fatigue. Additionally, many residents sought signals – such as physically seeing the tornado or noticing if their neighbors were taking protective action – to confirm that this was not just a false alarm.

Similarly, in the months following the September 11th attacks, road fatalities increased on the East Coast, as individuals chose to drive instead of flying due to fear of terrorism – even though flying is one of the safest forms of transport. The sense of control people felt for driving over flying, combined with the perceived uncertainty of where and when the next attack might occur, drove this response.

Authorities did not anticipate the significant changes in travel patterns and its consequences and, therefore, did not develop a robust communication strategy to address travelers’ concerns.

Prior to drafting effective risk communications and warnings, emergency management communicators at the Federal and local levels must first understand how their communities perceive risks. Officials should consider:

·       The public’s prior experience with the potential hazard (or lack of experience)

·       The degree of trust they have in their authorities based on the handling of previous risk events

·       Their demographic needs (e.g., primary language used)

·       Behaviors and actions for authorities to encourage and discourage

Communicators must also be aware of their own effectiveness when communicating disaster warnings. While they may be adept at communicating the risks of more familiar hazards like hurricanes, they must recognize their limitations and understand how to handle less familiar risks – such as a chemical terrorist attack.

Risk communication is a two-way process. Disaster authorities must constantly respond to the evolving perceptions and needs of the communities they support. By integrating these factors, they can greatly increase societal resilience.

About Arc Aspicio

Arc Aspicio is a management, strategy, and technology consulting firm that takes a mission-oriented approach to complex client challenges. As a rapidly growing company, Arc Aspicio has a bold strategy for 2016-2018 that drives growth through new capabilities in strategy, design, human capital, data analytics, information sharing, cybersecurity, and strategic communications. The company is known for a strong, collaborative culture that values gratitude – for its clients and its great team. And, #welovedogs! Follow us on Twitter @arcaspicio or learn more at www.arcaspicio.com.

Contributors

Benjamin Sheppard |

Ben Sheppard is a Senior Associate at Arc Aspicio and has extensive experience in homeland security risk management issues on preparedness, response and recovery including communications and warnings. Ben has also taught a number of graduate courses at George Washington University. Sheppard holds a Ph.D. from King’s College London on the psychology of strategic terrorism. 

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