Analysis of Risk Communication Strategies and Approaches with At-Risk Populations to Enhance Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

Final Report

by Lisa S. Meredith, Lisa R. Shugarman, Anita Chandra, Stephanie L. Taylor, Stefanie Howard, Ellen Burke Beckjord, Andrew M. Parker, Terri Tanielian

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Communication is a critical component of helping individuals prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies. However, there is limited knowledge about how to best communicate with at-risk populations in emergencies. To inform this gap, RAND researchers, under contract by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) (Task Order 07EASPE000074), sought to understand the communication needs and to identify strategies with potential for improving risk communication with at-risk populations.

This one-year study presents the results of an assessment that involved review of the literature on emergency preparedness risk communication and public health messaging strategies; the compilation of educational and outreach materials for emergency preparedness communication with at-risk populations; and site visits in three states and the Washington, DC area to identify gaps in the practice of risk communication with at-risk populations.

Findings from the evaluation suggest that the field, defined by the intersection of public health emergency risk communication and at-risk populations, is relatively new. Only a small proportion of the literature in this domain addresses at-risk populations within the context of public health risk communication; most is descriptive in nature, suggesting a need for more rigorous evaluations of risk communication strategies that target at-risk populations. We found that across states and risk communication activities, evaluation efforts range widely in terms of their methodology and rigor. Findings also suggest that using community-based participatory approaches to designing and disseminating risk communication for at-risk populations, and offering messages in multiple modes that are locally and personally relevant, would have many benefits for strengthen emergency preparedness, response, and recovery for at-risk populations, but are currently underutilized. In addition, training through exercises and drills that include risk communication for at-risk populations may improve response to future disasters. Effective risk communicators must be trained to understand emergency risk communication, know their stakeholders, and be trusted in the community. Finally, reaching at-risk populations requires the use of multiple channels, formats, and tools.

The findings should be of interest to state and local emergency managers, community-based organizations, public health researchers, and policy makers.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Study Methodology

  • Chapter Three


  • Chapter Four

    Study Conclusions and Policy Considerations

  • Chapter Five

    Considerations for Additional Research

  • Chapter Six

    Literature Cited

The research in this report was conducted by RAND Health and prepared for the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

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