HPA Experience of Public Communication in

Different types of Emergencies
Mary Morrey, UK HPA

Enhancing Transparency and Communications Effectiveness in the event of a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency Vienna, 19/6/12
Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards

Emergencies impacting UK
• 1957 Windscale Fire
• [1979 Three Mile Island]

• • • • •

1986 2005 2006 2009 2011

Chernobyl Buncefield Oil Storage depot fire London polonium poisoning Swine flu Fukushima

Also: • tyre fires.... • (national) emergency exercises Increasing self-empowerment and articulation of the public

Communication: Not just for emergencies
• Chronic public health concerns
• nuclear power programme, mobile phones • contaminated land: radiation and chemical • waste management: landfill, incinerators, composting....

• Balancing need for action with level of risk
• • • • Mercury in face cream Measles Jequirity ‘beads’ TB

Use ‘Peace Time’ Activities to build Partnership Working and Processes

What is the Goal?

• An ‘effective’ response • minimise health consequences • minimise disruption / anxiety • maximise rate of recovery (social, economic) • Most stakeholders want a balanced, rational response strategy – trust the common sense of the public • no clear ‘correct’ strategy • comprehension of the concept of optimisation • balance: common framework & local flexibility • understand range of anxieties and losses • reduce inequity

Dimensions of Engagement
• Different groups: • Health risk: high, chronic, ‘worried well’, worried for others • Empowerment: protect themselves, needing assistance • Perspective: local, national, international • Different engagement timeframes • planning, emergency response, rehabilitation • Different communication mechanisms • how to engage • what to provide Need to plan for this now, not when it happens

Communication during ‘Polonium’
• One-to-One: • Low risk - reassurance: Medics, supported by scientists • Higher risk – detailed explanations & action: Scientists, supported by medics • Partners (local, national, international) – consistent response: all staff, as appropriate

• Media: • Trained staff with ‘aptitude’, supported by communications’ experts – plain English, honest, manage expectations
• Website: • Key for reducing direct burden on staff

Communication during Fukushima
• Cross-Government & International Partnership Working was key: • Strong pre-emergency links and MoUs • Embedding specialists in key Departments • SAGE (Science Advisory Group in Emergencies) • International liaison between specialists • Collation and publication of all monitoring results by one agency • One to One advice: • Embassy telecons • NHS Direct – call centre triage

Lessons Learned: planning
• Pre-prepared messages & information: • factual information • how to convey difficult messages • Who says what • Mechanisms for agreeing messages • Processes for informing messages • Presentation formats and media • Flexible frameworks to cope with reality:
• • • • many new players ‘on the day’ communication breakdowns staff unavailable, eg caught up in incident ministerial decisions / statements

Lessons Learned: Communicators

• For effective engagement, public must: • respect your expertise • trust in your independence • trust that you have a genuine interest in their concerns • believe you are empowered to act

• Public look to ‘independent’ organisations and professions • Public look to direct contact with individuals • Public understand ‘optimisation’ – ie balancing harms and benefits • Public will accept an iterative approach to improving the situation – providing it is well-managed

Lessons Learned: Personal

People want responses that:
• • • • sound reasonable address their concerns involve them (and are not patronising) are honest about what is not known (with a reasoned approach to
dealing with this uncertainty)

• are equitable from their perspective • enable them to plan their lives (being told when information will be
available is better than saying nothing, and certainly better than giving wrong information (avoid ‘broken promises’))

• give them reasons to ignore ‘scare-mongering’ • give them reassurance for their children’s health (they don’t want to
feel guilty for the rest of their lives)


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