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Risk Communication: Challenges & Opportunities (before, during & after an event) Center for Disaster Research & Education at Millersville University Seminar.

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Presentation on theme: "Risk Communication: Challenges & Opportunities (before, during & after an event) Center for Disaster Research & Education at Millersville University Seminar."— Presentation transcript:

1 Risk Communication: Challenges & Opportunities (before, during & after an event) Center for Disaster Research & Education at Millersville University Seminar on April 5, 2013 Prepared and Presented By: Fran Watkins Marshall, J.D., M.S.P.H. State Toxicologist and SC EPHT Manager South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control

2 Risk in General  For some, risk indicates danger; for others reward.  Within the context of public health, risk is usually defined as a potential to harm health or the environment.  Science estimates the likelihood of risk; policy helps to define what is acceptable.  In order to have risk, you must have BOTH the presence of a hazard AND a route of exposure to ENOUGH of it.  The concept of risk is further complicated by both perception and emotion. 2

3 Shades of Grey… 3 [Source 1, page 13.]

4 My Perspective:  MSPH – Focus: Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene (UAB 1990)  Certified Industrial Hygienist, worked in petro/chemical industry 13 years (1990 – 2003)  Certified Hazardous Materials Specialist  Certified Interior Structural Firefighter  Certified (NC) Medical Responder  Trained in Wildlands Fire Fighting  Juris Doctor (USC 2006)/Trial Attorney (2006 – 2008)  State Toxicologist & SC EPHT Program Manager (October 2008 – present) 4

5 Dedication & Disclaimer  This presentation is dedicated to Joyce Kirk-Moyer who, this week, is embarking on the most challenging and rewarding risk communication role – that of becoming a parent. Joyce, this one’s for you.  The opinions expressed in this presentation are my own and not intended to represent those of my current or former employers or co-workers. 5

6 1+1=2 (Or does it ?) 6 Part 1:

7 We Have Long Tried to Make It so: “All the [mathematical] sciences are founded on relations between physical laws and laws of numbers, so that the aim of exact science is to reduce the problems of nature to the determination of quantities by operations with numbers.” [Emphasis added.] [Emphasis added.] James C. Maxwell – James C. Maxwell (Scottish Mathematician: 1831 – 1879) 7

8 Please Check “Yes” or “No.”  We must recognize that it is part of the ‘human condition’ that we want the world in which we live to be black or white. We want clear answers to any/every question:  “Yes.” or “No.”  “Wrong.” or “Right.”  “Problem.” or “Not a problem.”  “Causes.” or “Does not cause.”  Unfortunately, often there is no clear answer to the questions we are asked. 8

9 Basic Communication Requires: 1. Information to Convey 2. A Sender of the Information 3. A Willing Receiver of the Information 9 Source: The Atlanta-Journal Constitution

10 A Brief History of Risk Communication 10 Part 2:

11 Evolution of RC:  Like many disciplines, risk communication is part science, part art;  Its evolution as a discipline comes primarily from the rise of the use of risk assessment in regulatory processes requiring more public participation in Risk Assessment/Risk Management;  Over time, Risk Communication has become a formal, recognized and important function of Risk Assessment/Risk Management. 11

12 Changing Definition of RC:  Traditional views of risk communication were that it consisted of “one-way” communication from an expert or experts to non-experts in an attempt to ‘translate’ complicated statements about risk down to a level that non-technical audiences could understand.  While translation of technical data is still a valid focus of RC, effective RC is now understood to be at least a “two-way” communication, if not more. 12

13 A More Modern Definition….  Risk Communication is: “An interactive process of exchange of information and opinions among individuals, groups, and institutions, concerning a risk or potential risk to human health or the environment. It involves multiple messages about the nature of risk and other messages not strictly about risk, that express concerns, opinions or reactions to risk messages or to legal and institutional arrangements for risk management.” 13 Source 3: Analysis of Risk Communication Strategies and Approaches with At-Risk Populations to Enhance Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery: Final Report, DHHS, December [http://www.bt.cdc.gov/coca/pdf/ANALYSIS%20OF%20RISK%20COMMUNICATION%20STRA TEGIES.pdf] [http://www.bt.cdc.gov/coca/pdf/ANALYSIS%20OF%20RISK%20COMMUNICATION%20STRA TEGIES.pdf

14 What Is RC? What is it NOT?  WHO: “…an interactive process of exchange of information and opinion on risk among risk assessors, risk managers, and other interested parties.”  CDC/ATSDR: “Merely disseminating information without regard for communicating the complexities and uncertainties of risk does not necessarily ensure effective risk communication.” 14 Source 6: ATSDR Health Risk Communication Primer (citing Covello and Allen 1988). [www.atsdr.cdc.gov/risk/riskprimer/vision.html] Source 5: World Health Organization: [www.who.int/foodsafety/micro/riskcommunication/en/]

15 Some Good Rainy Day Reads: 15 See Sources 7 & 8 on last slide for citations.

16 Purpose of rc changes along with the situation:  In some situations, Risk Communication is used to encourage an action on the part of the audience – like evacuation prior to a hurricane.  In others, Risk Communication is used to educate, to inform and to build consensus regarding a situation that either contains risk or is perceived to contain/involve risk. 16

17 The 3-Challenge Approach:  Knowledge challenge – the audience must be able to understand the technical information presented  Process challenge – the audience needs to feel involved in the process  Communications skills challenge – the audience and those who are communicating the risk need to be able to both convey information and to receive information effectively. [Source 2, page 15.] 17

18 Crisis (risk) communication Lifecycle: 18 Source 4: CDC Crisis + Emergency Risk Communication; [www.emergency.cdc.gov/cerc]

19 7 Cardinal Rules of RC: 1. Accept and involve the public as partner 2. Plan carefully and evaluate your efforts 3. Listen to the public’s specific concerns 4. Be honest, frank and open 5. Work with other credible sources 6. Meet the needs of the media 7. Speak clearly and with compassion Source 6: ATSDR Health Risk Communication Primer (citing Covello and Allen 1988). [www.atsdr.cdc.gov/risk/riskprimer/vision.html] 19

20 Hazard Plus Outrage  Peter Sandman proposes the premise that risk should be defined as hazard plus outrage;  His opinion is that the audience’s view of risk reflects not just the danger of the situation but also how they feel about it and, even more important, what emotions they feel about it (their outrage). [Source 2, page 17.] 20

21 Risk Perception  Lest we forget, perception reality to those who perceive it.  Lest we forget, perception IS reality to those who perceive it.  Perceptions are influenced by many factors, some more emotional than logical.  Generally speaking, people are much more willing to accept high risk behaviors that they can control (like smoking or driving a car) than much lower risk(s) of exposure to environmental hazards that they cannot control (emissions from chemical facilities, spills or releases of hazardous materials). “For the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” - JFK [Source 1, page 4.] 21

22 Practical Risk Communication Some Lessons Learned and Points to Ponder 22 Part 3:

23 Overstating the Obvious  The question we have to ask ourselves when dealing with non-scientists is often to whom is “it” obvious? 23

24 The Simple Things Matter: Like Grammar & Punctuation Clean up messaging “Clean-up” Messaging 24

25 Communicate Early & Often & Not in Acronyms  We know acronyms (EPCRA, RCRA, EPA, CDC, ATSDR, Superfund, Hazwoper etc.); but ask one of your non-scientist friends what some of these stand for and see what responses you get. 25

26 Relative Quantity  We know the relative size of and difference between a ppm, a ppb, and a ppt; but to the general public audience ANY amount of something hazardous is perceived as unacceptable. 26

27 Timing is Everything  The chance we have for willing receptors (listeners) is very much related to how early in the process we communicate with them; often, the longer we wait, the less credibility we have and the more fuel there is for ‘outrage’.  BEFORE (best), during & after an event 27

28 Keys: Planning, Use and Critique  Partnerships during the planning process between emergency management, first responders, law enforcement, health care systems, industry and environmental stakeholder organizations are key to ensuring a consistent and effective message  Exercises, whether table-top or full blown, are invaluable learning opportunities; as are de-briefs/after- action analyses 28

29 Another Disclaimer  For purposes of this presentation, I will provide a brief description of the events, but the focus is on the interactions outside of the on-scene response and site investigations, and dealing more with the communication of risk(s) among the general public - before, during and afterwards.  These scenarios are based on real events. There were fatalities in two of them, and while I am talking today about ancillary lessons learned about risk communication, I do not ever want to forget those lives, nor make light of their loss. 29

30 There’s No Teacher Like Experience:  Scenario One: After a Refinery Fire - Fire Ants, Vegetable Gardens & ACM  Scenario Two: After a “Small” Explosion - A Pound of Cure  Scenario Three: Acute Release; Chronic Perception - A Road Less Traveled  Scenario Four: A Long-term Look at Residual Risk(s) – What Is Left Behind 30

31 1. Fire Ants, Vegetable Gardens & ACM  [Read scenario.]  Educate without alarming;  Be conservative regarding assessing and/or communicating risk(s);  Be human (though I would recommend avoiding fire ants!). 31

32 2. A Pound of Cure  After an explosion involving two (2) pounds of ethylene oxide blew a panel off of a building and gave a maintenance guy quite a ride, community perception was that the facility was a dangerous place to live near….  But then along came the CAP and interactive communication with the neighbors.  Over time as trust grew, fear dissipated. 32

33 3. A Road Less Travelled  Imagine a neighbor driving down the road going to work and entering a cloud of ammonia released from a small ammonia storage facility;  He dies within minutes of driving into the ammonia cloud;  News outlets tell you and your neighbors to shelter in place;  What’s going through your mind? 33

34 4. What Is Left Behind…  [Read scenario.]  How clean is clean?  Low dose, chronic exposure and disease outcomes  Greater risks; more control vs. lesser risks; no control “In general, exposures that are invisible or undetectable with the senses are feared more; dreaded consequences are magnified, and unfamiliar or new risks are more troublesome than such familiar, though much higher, risks as cigarette smoking, drinking alcoholic beverages, driving too fast, or engaging in hazardous recreational activities.” [Source 1, page 27.] 34

35 In Closing 35 Part 4:

36 Most Important Lessons Learned:  Listen. Sometimes listening, without trying to formulate what you will say when a person stops talking, to a concern and perspective is the most valuable risk communication tool….after all, we all have an innate desire to be heard.  Show empathy if it is genuine.  It is OK to answer a question with, “I don’t know, let me get an answer back to you.”  Sometimes, you have to agree to disagree and accept defeat in your attempts to communicate.  Don’t forget RC in planning phase. 36

37 Ways to Observe/Participate in RC:  Look for public meetings in your area that involve either environmental clean-up sites or permits  Look for opportunities to attend local CAP meetings  Look for opportunities to attend local (city, county, HOA) meetings involving discussion of emergency planning, response or environmental contamination/risks 37

38 Topics for Future Discussions:  Risk Communication Principles  The use of social media in RC  Risk Communication during phases of response:  Prior to a disaster/emergency  During Needs Assessment phase immediately following disaster  After the incident is over  Communication with the media; Use of media to communicate with the public 38

39 (Good Advice from Another Scientist/Lawyer) 39 “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it away from them but to inform their discretion.” - Thomas Jefferson [Source 1, page 27.]

40 40

41 Questions & Discussion “Just because nobody complains doesn’t mean all parachutes are perfect.” “Just because nobody complains doesn’t mean all parachutes are perfect.” – Benny Hill 41

42 References:  Source 1: Robson, Mark G., and William A. Toscano, eds. Risk Assessment for Environmental Health. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Print.  Source 2: Lundgren, Regina W., and Andrea H. McMakin. Risk Communication: A Handbook for Communicating Environmental, Safety and Health Risks. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-IEEE, Print.  Source 3: Analysis of Risk Communication Strategies and Approaches with At-Risk Populations to Enhance Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery: Final Report, DHHS, December [http://www.bt.cdc.gov/coca/pdf/ANALYSIS%20OF%20RISK%20COMMUNICATION%2 0STRATEGIES.pdf]. [http://www.bt.cdc.gov/coca/pdf/ANALYSIS%20OF%20RISK%20COMMUNICATION%2 0STRATEGIES.pdf  Source 4: "Crisis & Emergency Risk Communication (CERC)." Crisis & Emergency Risk Communication (CERC). CDC, Web. 04 Apr [www.emergency.cdc.gov/cerc]www.emergency.cdc.gov/cerc  Source 5: "Risk Communication." WHO. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr World Health Organization:  Source 6: "Principles and Practices Overview of Issues and Guiding Principles." ATSDR, Web. 04 Apr [www.atsdr.cdc.gov/risk/riskprimer/vision.html]www.atsdr.cdc.gov/risk/riskprimer/vision.html  Source 7: Risk Assessment in the Federal Government: Managing the Process. Washington, D.C.: National Academy, Print.  Source 8: Science and Judgment in Risk Assessment. Washington, D.C.: National Academy, Print. 42


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