Analysis of Risk Communication Strategies and Approaches with At-Risk Populations to Enhance Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery: Final Report. Background

12/01/2008

Risk communication is a critical component of public health emergency preparedness (PHEP), response, and recovery efforts,[1] as it provides an all-important link for the public to make informed decisions about what actions to take. According to the U.S. House of Representatives,[2] public health emergency communication should be non-discriminatory, with equal access and utility to all individuals. As described in the literature review in Task 3 of this project,[3] vulnerable populations face specific challenges in their ability to access, process, and act on risk communication and may have particular needs before, during, and after emergencies.

To assist planning and response efforts for these more vulnerable populations, we created a compendium to obtain and inventory relevant communication, outreach, and education materials, related to emergency preparedness, response, and recovery, that are intended for vulnerable populations. Specifically, the purposes of this compendium are:

  1. To provide a list of resources to public health emergency planners and those working to deliver risk communications to vulnerable populations.

  2. To identify promising risk communication strategies.

  3. To identify gaps and commonalities in available resources.

Risk communication has been defined as an interactive process of exchange of information and opinion among individuals, groups, and institutions. 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.[4] For purposes of this task, and in keeping with other discussions of risk communication,[5, 6] we focus on communications regarding risks that specifically include actionable information. That is, the information does not simply describe the nature or consequences of a risk, but rather provides information on how to prepare for, protect against, respond to, or recover from the risk. A great number of risk communication resources exist for general audiences. Yet, the literature review (Task 3) and recent events such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita highlight the specific challenges and shortcomings of risk communications for vulnerable populations. In addition to being actionable, the public health emergency risk communications considered here must address the specific needs that vulnerable populations will likely have before, during, or after a public health emergency.

Vulnerable populations include individuals who have disabilities, are institutionalized, are elderly, are from diverse cultures, have limited English proficiency or are non-English speaking, are children, are transportation disadvantaged, are pregnant, have chronic medical disorders, or have pharmacological dependency (i.e., chemical dependency/addiction). The definition used here has been adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services and was derived from recommendations of the Interagency Coordinating Council on Emergency Preparedness and Individuals with Disabilities, the draft implementation plan for the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, and the draft revisions to the National Response Plan.

The compendium is built on the foundation provided by the literature review of promising risk communication approaches and communication strategies (Task 3). In conjunction with the literature review, this compendium informs the case studies of state or local region risk communication practices as they relate to vulnerable populations (Task 5).

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