Principles of Risk Communication: A Guide to Communicating with Socially Vulnerable Populations Across the Disaster Lifecycle

The University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center’s “Principles of Risk Communication: A Guide to Communicating with Socially Vulnerable Populations Across the Disaster Lifecycle” concisely reviews approaches on communicating about hazard and disaster risks to socially vulnerable populations across the U.S. It is organized with three principles in mind: (1) Communicating through familiar and trusted messengers; (2) Providing; and (3) Tailoring messages and information pathways to target audiences, especially marginalized and frontline communities. The document applies these three principles to disaster preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation actions, and emphasizes techniques for communicating with frontline communities.

Key points on risk communication, especially when working with frontline communities, include:

  • Communication should be carried out through or in cooperation with sources that are credible and trusted by target audiences. Working with partners that understand these communities is important, and it is essential to communicate with them in ways that are understood and accepted by such communities. For instance, technical experts may not be the best communicators.
  • Messaging needs to be clear, consistent, and comprehensible, and needs to prompt action  -- not just risk awareness.
  • Messages should not be “one size fits all,” but targeted to different groups, particularly those socially vulnerable groups who, because of their income, gender, ethnicity, religion, or other characteristics, may be prioritized more strongly for outreach efforts.

The CU guidance contains examples and ideas on how to communicate with diverse frontline communities. For example, it covers how best to communicate with renters, low-income communities, and different religious groups, in order to help ascertain their needs.

The report presents its key findings organized by the three principles, and further breaks down its findings  by the four stages of the disaster life cycle: preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. It also contains tables organized by these four disaster stages, and includes examples of effective risk communication and key takeaways.

The University of Colorado’s Natural Hazards Research Center prepared the report with financial support from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Office of Homeland Security.

Publication Date: April 2020

Related Organizations:

  • Natural Hazards Center - University of Colorado Boulder


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Communication
  • Engagement

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