Risk Communication

Providing clear and consistent public health information to the public in the context of an emergency is imperative. Our work evaluates the content, appropriateness, and inclusivity of communication plans and campaigns in the context of a variety of hazards and disasters.

Inclusive Risk Communication:

Inclusive risk communication is essential to ensure that individuals and communities are able to access and appropriately act upon hazard and public health risk information. CEER researchers are engaged in a larger effort to encourage just emergency management and risk communication practice that is cognizant and inclusive of the diverse populations emergency management agencies serve. While previous research efforts have outlined frameworks for engaging particularly at-risk communities, our current work concerning precariously housed individuals and communities takes this a step further as we develop an approach for how to integrate diverse community perspectives, particularly among those most at-risk to extreme weather, into risk communication planning. This includes identification of barriers and facilitators to engagement, integration of community perspectives into planning, and carrying out risk communication at local levels of governance.


Extreme Heat:

Extreme heat can be unhealthy for everyone, but some groups are at greater risk of illness or death when temperatures rise. CEER researcher Tania Busch Isaksen’s research on heat illness in King County identified specific groups at increased risk of heat-related illness, including older adults, children, people living with chronic illness, and outdoor workers. Public Health Seattle & King County partner Robin Pfohman and Meredith Li-Vollmer conducted focus groups and interviews with target populations to understand community members’ information needs and preferred coping mechanisms for extreme heat. The findings from both research projects informed the design of a comic drawn by artist David Lasky which featured many of Seattle’s diverse communities and the coping mechanisms they use to stay cool in hot weather. The comic was designed to clearly communicate heat safety messages, to represent King County’s diversity of communities, and to be approachable and engaging.


Wildfire Smoke:

The frequency and severity of extreme, prolonged smoke events are increasing in our region, reflecting an increasing need for clear and consistent risk communications. Our work has explored the content of risk communication materials, resident risk perceptions, and culturally-appropriate and preferred modes of wildfire smoke risk communication. We have conducted content analysis of governmental communications and resident surveys regarding risk perceptions and communication preferences among Methow Valley residents. With the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, we are working to understand how tribal and non-tribal communities receive information about smoke exposure. We have also worked with state and local public health agencies on the development of risk communication materials and strategies.


Related Publications:

  • Scott KK, Errett NA. Content, accessibility and dissemination of disaster information via social media during the 2016 Louisiana floods. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2018;24(4):370-379. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000708
  • VanDeventer D, Marcaux J, Doubleday A, Errett NA, Busch Isaksen TM. Wildfire Smoke Risk Communication Efficacy: A Content Analysis to Summarize Washington State’s 2018 Statewide Smoke Event Public Health Messaging. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2020 Apr 17. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000001151. [Epub ahead of print]