1. Accept and involve the public as a partner.
â€¢ Involve community stakeholders as early as possible in the decision-making process.
â€¢ Develop communication materials with a focus on creating an informed public that can be actively involved in the response efforts.
2. Plan carefully and evaluate your efforts.
â€¢ Develop clear objectives about what your efforts hope to achieve.
â€¢ Create risk communication materials and messages with a particular audience in mind. For example, parents, policy makers, and first responders will have different interests, responsibilities, and priorities.
â€¢ Recruit and train spokespeople who are appropriate for and able to interact with the intended audience.
â€¢ Pretest risk communication materials with the intended audience in order to ensure that the messages you are developing are appropriate and interpreted correctly.
â€¢ Evaluate your communication efforts, identifying both what worked well and what needs to be improved.
3. Listen to the publicâ€™s specific concerns.
â€¢ Find out what your intended audience thinks, knows, and feels about the specific situation at hand.
â€¢ Conduct research, including interviews, focus group discussions, and surveys, to identify the publicâ€™s concerns.
â€¢ Recognize that people are often more interested in trust, credibility, competency, fairness, and compassion than in detailed (and often changing) mortality and morbidity statistics.
4. Be honest, frank, and open.
â€¢ Do not expect the public to view you as a credible source of information based on your credentials alone. In other words, you must work to establish and maintain the publicâ€™s trust.
â€¢ Disclose accurate, science-based information about the specific crisis or risk in a timely manner, especially given the multimedia universe in which we currently live. Credibility and trust also hinge on the ability to communicate, react, and respond early.
â€¢ Present an accurate current level of risk based on the best available information. Do not minimize or exaggerate risk.
â€¢ Say what you know as well as what you do not know. In other words, it is important to not overly reassure the public, speculate, or lie. Instead, transparency is key in both acknowledging uncertainty and disseminating accurate information.
â€¢ Create channels for disseminating accurate and timely information, such as hotlines and websites.
5. Work with other credible sources.
â€¢ Establish relationships with other organizations, agencies, etc. that have shared interests. Involve these entities in the planning process of a crisis communication strategy.
â€¢ Identify other trustworthy individuals (i.e., university professors, physicians, local officials) who may serve as credible media spokespeople.
â€¢ Coordinate communication efforts (both the development and release of risk information) with your collaborative partners. Such coordination is critical to ensure consistent messaging and continued trust by the public. Opposing messages will undermine trust, raise fear, and increase confusion held by the public.
6. Meet the needs of the media.
â€¢ Establish relationships with specific reporters and media outlets.
â€¢ Be accessible to reporters.
â€¢ Tailor risk communication information to the specific media channel. For example, clear and simple charts and graphs may be helpful for print media.
7. Speak clearly and with compassion.
â€¢ Use simple, nontechnical language. In particular, make sure to avoid the use of jargon.
â€¢ Be consistent in your messaging. For example, if you are going to have more than one spokesperson, they should be trained to adhere to the same messages. Inconsistent messaging will lead to a loss of credibility with the intended audience and may increase their level of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.
â€¢ Write material to a fourth-grade reading level. The reading level of written materials can be assessed using readability formulas such as the SMOG formula. http://www.harrymclaughlin.com/SMOG.htm.
â€¢ Address misinformation, stigmatization, and rumors promptly.
â€¢ Include specific action steps that community members can take to protect themselves and their families.
â€¢ Come across as open and empathetic to the public.
Source: From Covello VT, Allen F. Seven Cardinal Rules of Risk Communication. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Policy Document OPA-87-020; 1988.