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

12/01/2008

Though a large body of research exists on public health emergency risk communication, only a small portion of that literature addresses vulnerable populations, and most citations are primarily descriptive in nature, leaving very few that offer empirical support for specific public health messaging strategies for use with vulnerable populations. However, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in particular, studies of public health emergency risk communication focused on vulnerable populations have become more common. As the evidence base regarding risk communication strategies for vulnerable populations grows, policy makers and decision makers can draw upon the general literature on public health emergency risk communication to design strategies for success.[1] In addition, our review identified several promising approaches to successful public health emergency risk communication with vulnerable populations:

  • Offer frequent risk communication in multiple modes that are locally and personally relevant.

  • Employ community-based participatory approaches when designing and disseminating risk communication for vulnerable populations.

  • Keeping in mind that access may be limited, consider Internet-based communication strategies, particularly during emergency response and recovery.

  • Risk communication must be culturally competent in addition to being offered in languages appropriate for vulnerable populations.

  • Vulnerability assessments are key to developing successful risk communication strategies with vulnerable populations.

  • Children are a vulnerable population with special needs and schools are a promising setting for delivering risk communication to children and other vulnerable populations.

  • Leadership is critical to successful risk communication with vulnerable populations, particularly in self-contained organizations (e.g., hospitals, companies, schools).

  • Meteorologists may be a preferred risk communication messenger during public health emergencies to which they are relevant (e.g., natural disasters and any emergency with an airborne component).

Limitations

Though we aimed to be comprehensive in our review, our search strategy may have excluded potentially relevant references from the citations that were examined for inclusion. Our search aimed to capture the broad literature on public health emergency risk communication; those that addressed vulnerable populations were included in the review. Had our strategy first captured the broad literature on vulnerable populations and then included references that addressed public health emergency risk communication, we may have found different results. Further, by only including peer-reviewed literature published since 2000 in our database search, we may have eliminated books or other reports that include information relevant to the review. Additionally, as the public health emergency risk communication literature published since 2000 focuses heavily on the events surrounding Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,[22, 26, 27, 28, 32, 40, 41, 43, 58] our results may be biased towards risk communication regarding natural disasters and the vulnerable populations represented in the Gulf States. Finally, in reviewing a relatively small sample of statutes, regulations, and related reports deemed relevant for inclusion and the limited applicability of the DAF in characterizing these references, our incorporation of these citations into the larger review was somewhat limited.

Conclusion

Risk communication plays a key role in keeping vulnerable populations safe before, during, and after public health emergencies. This review offers insights into ways of improving public health emergency risk communication with vulnerable populations and suggestions as to how subsequent project tasks can further inform efforts to address vulnerable populations in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery.

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