Risk Communications

Learning Goals:
Develop awareness of special techniques needed in high concern, low trust situation
Value of planning
Understanding public outrage


Communicating effectively is important in any human undertaking. Scientists and engineers frequently get into trouble when communicating with the public in certain situations. These troubling situations usually involve high concern of the public coupled with low trust of the communicator. Risk communications as a specialized undertaking is needed to communicate effectively in these high concern, low trust situations. The level of concern of the public who feel they were exposed to hazardous chemicals or may be exposed in the future is usually high. The public trust is almost always low for representatives of the PRP or their consultants. It is frequently low for regulators as well. Surprisingly, it is usually low for the media.

Why do we want to communicate risks effectively? We want to:

Before I give you the "7 rules to success, " here is the most frequent reason for risk communications failure: the person responsible for the communications (you) does not realize he is in a high concern, low trust situation and that special efforts are required. Oblivious to the dangers, he speaks and writes in the usual manner, shoots from the hip. Later, swatting at the hornets of rage buzzing around his head he asks, "What'd I say?" Again

High concern, low trust = special risk communication efforts required.


Seven rules for success in risk communications:

  1. Accept the public as legitimate partners
  2. Plan carefully
  3. Listen to the public
  4. Be honest, frank, and open
  5. Collaborate with credible sources
  6. Meet the media's needs
  7. Speak clearly and with compassion
Here is a slide show with an exposition of those 7 rules. Slides.


This Risk booklet has a good 3-page summary about public involvement, pages 30-33 that I recommend you read.

Dr. Peter Sandman is an expert in risk communications. For insight into the risk communication, please read the following.

Glance at his web site here then read the general article that highlights some of his ideas, It’s The Outrage, Stupid. Then read two of his web articles on risk communication, facing public outrage and risk communication . Bookmark these, you will need these "outrage factors" for homework   NEXT

  Module 9 Index