Contents & Abstracts
Editorial : Special
Edition: Risk Information & Communication.
by Bernd Rohrmann
In this special edition, socio-psychological issues of risk information and risk communication are treated in both empirical and theoretical papers, contributed by authors from five different countries.
The paper gives some examples of empirical studies where people have rated their experiences of risk, and of trust, in situations of increased risk exposure. Data are obtained from various studies conducted in Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland. They describe public reactions to radioactive contamination after the Chernobyl accident, environmental pollution, violence at work, and the prospect of siting a repository for high level radioactive waste in a community. Based on such heterogeneous examples, the paper aims at delineating systematic results showing that (a) the strength of the risk reactions is related to the factual severity of the hazard, thus disputing suggestions of rather arbitrary reactions to risk, and (b) that trust in information constitutes just one aspect of social trust. The latter phenomenon represents a more comprehensive concept which involves an integrated system of knowledge and personal experience. The relevance of the examples regarding emergency preparedness, disaster perception and especially risk communication is discussed.
New Zealand's spectacular scenery owes its origins to natural processes that continue to shape and move the physical environment. Thus many of New Zealand's tourist centres are located in areas where there are significant risks from natural hazards. In 1995-96 and 1999, two case studies were conducted in small tourist communities known to be at risk from natural hazards. These case studies aimed to learn more about community understanding of the risk and willingness to accept the risk, and to help establish communication channels between agencies responsible for managing the risk and the residents. Both case studies were conducted prior to decisions being made about capital protection works. The purpose of this paper is to review the processes applied and to suggest how this experience might be used to help design effective procedures for communicating emergency response information. Statements made by residents implied that many of them were aware of the likelihood component of risks from natural hazards and had chosen to accept to tolerate them in return for personal lifestyle benefits. There was less awareness of the potential magnitude of events. The response from participants indicated that such small-scale case studies of this nature can generate goodwill in small communities, and thus provide a means of enhancing community awareness and uptake of emergency preparedness.
Flood warnings often don't work well and too frequently fail completely - and this despite great effort by the responsible authorities. Reasons for this may be inherent in the methodology and definitions used to assess warnings, for example, higher standards may be applied to warnings than to other forms of risk communication, and the definition of failure will often determine the outcome of an evaluation. Aside from these methodological issues, warnings may fail for a range of reasons associated with the meshing of the warning message with those at risk; as well as institutional factors such as cooperation between the organisations involved, and how they conceptualise the warning task. The task may be conceptualised narrowly leaving out important elements of the risk. These factors are examined in the context of recent European and Australian research and experience of warnings.
Despair is understandable; while resources devoted to warning systems are fairly static, the task is probably becoming more challenging by the day because of social evolution - and in turn this raises the issue of the validity of much earlier research. Although success with warnings may becoming more difficult to achieve, there are potential changes in the operating environment which may force higher performance. Other conclusions include: the importance of agreeing on a definition of "success", as a precursor to warning-system wide agreement on the task; a more negotiated approach to those at risk (rather than a monopolistic supplier approach); and targeting to ensure that no identifiable group is missed.
In this conceptual article, a theoretical framework for the socio-psychological process underlying risk information, communication and education efforts is outlined. The model identifies a set of message features (e.g., content clarity and acceptance), person characteristics (e.g., prior experience, cognitive biases, attitudes), social influences (e.g. , peers, media) and context factors (e.g., societal safety culture) which determine whether, and if so, how a particular risk communication regarding a hazard (i.e., a health & safety threat) influences individual risk assessment and management (i.e., risk appraisal, decision for preventive action and actual risk behavior and disaster preparedness). Three overlapping processes need to be considered and linked: how people deal with hazards, how risk information is processed and evaluated, and how accepted information affects risk perception, evaluation and behavior. As interactive risk communication is far more likely to be effective, two-way communication pathways are looked at as well.
A comprehensive model of the risk communication process is indispensable for several reasons: It may be utilized as a heuristic for designing respective programs, for measuring and assessing campaign outcomes, and for identifying barriers to risk awareness and attitude or behavior change. The presented framework can be elaborated and specified with regard to the problem type, the target audience, and the relevant attitudes and behaviors to be dealt with. It has proven useful in several studies about technological hazards as well as natural disasters. Further applications to different kinds of hazards and a variety of risk communication techniques would be worthwhile in order to explicate the soundness of the suggested socio-psychological approach to analyzing risk communication.
In many countries legislation requires chemical companies to inform the public about risks of a plant and about emergency measures. The paper reports the results of an evaluation study on the efficacy of such information. With regard to the effects of hazardous incident information it turns out that it can contribute to more knowledge about hazardous incident warnings and appropriate emergency behaviour. Negative effects of hazardous incident information on residents' risk perception did not arise in the study. Rather, the findings suggest that informing the public about risks can increase trust in a company. Based on these results conclusions are drawn for giving hazardous incident information to the public.
The key components of project that was designed to assess and reduce the trauma that prevailed after a tragic fire in a dormitory at a Secondary School in the small isolated Pacific Island State of Tuvalu are presented here, and indications are given of the outcome. They pose questions of a clinical, conceptual, and organisational kind that might arise in other cross-cultural settings.
The Western Australian Department for Family and Children's Services (FCS) were invited to assist the lead agencies, the Department for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) and the Australian Defence Force, in providing services to the Kosovar refugees relocated to Australia in 1999. The department's involvement centred on needs assessment of the Kosovar and the provision of family and individual support and advocacy.
Family and Children's Services made an early decision to develop support infrastructure for staff prior to commencing work with the Kosovar. The management of staff was designed to reduce levels of tension related to the counsellors' work, build a strong and supportive team, reduce the possibility of worker burnout, and facilitate re-entry into the workplace upon completion of the Team's work.
This article reviews the assessment methodology and subsequent interventions undertaken with the Kosovar by FCS team members. It also examines the management strategies utilised to maintain the health and functionality of the Team so that they in turn could provide quality services to the refugees.
Massey University, New Zealand
Last changed October