207128 Risk behaviour and compliancy following boil water notices due to a natural disaster versus a human error incident

Monday, November 9, 2009: 11:00 AM

Gabriella Rundblad, PhD , Department of Education and Professional Studies, King's College London, London, United Kingdom
Olivia Knapton, MA , Department of Education and Professional Studies, King's College London, London, United Kingdom
Paul R. Hunter, MBA MD FRCPath FFPH , University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom

In 2007, severe floods in the UK resulted in 340,000 people being issued a ‘Boil Water' notice after first having lost their water supply for up to 13 days. A year later, 258,000 people were issued a ‘Boil Water' notice due to a cryptosporidium outbreak when a rabbit entered a treatment works.


Previous studies show a high degree of risk behaviour during water incidents. So far no studies have compared compliancy to notices during a natural disaster compared to a more routine alert. We aimed to discover what precautionary actions (if any) were taken and to what extent and in what ways compliancy levels were influenced by the causes of the incidents. We also investigated participants' prior experiences, knowledge and beliefs about water, health and precautionary water actions.


A postal questionnaire was sent to 1000 randomly selected households per incident. Primary statistical analyses include descriptive and multivariable analyses.


Many respondents did not (consistently) comply with current advice, potentially putting themselves at risk. Participants displayed differences in their understanding and certainty over safe versus risky actions. Comparison of incidents showed differences in both risky activities and precautionary actions. Satisfaction with advice and information also varied between incidents.


We trace the differences in compliancy to several factors: cause of incident, complexity of incident, and clarity, access and source of advice. We further conclude that folk knowledge and experience of flooding, water contamination and/or precautionary actions such as boiling play a significant role that warrants further study.

Learning Objectives:
1.Differentiate the likelihood of potentially harmful activities when issued with a ‘Boil’ water notice during natural disasters versus human error incidents. 2.Explain how common folk beliefs and word associations about water, health and safety can influence consumers’ compliancy to water notices. 3.Identify possible improvements to health advice and communication in order to increase compliancy levels.

Keywords: Water, Risk Behavior

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Research interests My current research projects are in the areas of Cognitive Linguistics (with special focus on the Semantics and Pragmatics of Health Communication) and Typical/Atypical Language Development using a combination of Psycholinguistic and Discourse Analysis approaches. Cognitive Linguistics & Health Communication projects include: • Public health communication: semantics, pragmatics and risk behaviour. In particular, crisis communication about drinking water (funded by a Leverhulme Trust grant) • Impersonalisation, persuasion and identity in medical research articles • Conceptualisations of authority and factuality in lay and professional health discourse Selected Publications Rundblad, G. (2008) 'The semantics and pragmatics of water notices and the impact on public health'. Journal of Water and Health 6.S1: 77-86. Rundblad, G. (2008) ' We, ourselves and who else? Differences in use of passive voice and metonymy for oneself versus other researchers in medical research articles'. English Text Construction 1: 23-40. Rundblad, G. (2007) 'Impersonal, General and Social: The use of metonymy versus passive voice in medical discourse'. Written Communication 24: 250-277. Rundblad, G., Chilton, P. & Hunter, P. (2006) 'An Enquiry into Scientific and Media Discourse in the MMR Controversy: Authority and Factuality'. Communication and Medicine 3, 1, pp.69-80. Rundblad, G. & Kronenfeld, D. (2003) 'The Inevitability of Folk Etymology: A Case of Collective Reality and Invisible Hands' Journal of Pragmatics 35, 1, pp.119-138. Rundblad, G. & Kronenfeld, D. (2003) 'The Semantic Structure of Lexical Fields: Variation and Change' Words in Time: Diachronic semantics from different points of view (eds R. Eckardt, K. von Heusinger & C. Schwarze). Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter. Selected International conferences Rundblad, G. (2008) Cross-Modal Mapping, Metaphor and Language: Lessons from Atypical Development. Lived Experience, Metaphor and Multimodality: Implications in Communication, Education, Learning and Knowledge, Crete Conference papers: ‘Dissemination and Communication: Selling Vaccines to Peers and the General Public’. 2nd World Conference on Magic Bullets (Ehrlich II), Nürnberg. Rundblad, G. (2006) 'Differences in use of passive voice and/or metonymy for oneself versus other researchers in medical discourse'. Annual Conference of The Belgian Association of Anglicists in Higher Education (BAAHE), Leuven. Rundblad, G. (2006) 'Communication Strategies: communicating with professional and lay audiences'. Water Contamination Events: Communication with Consumers, Houston. Rundblad, G. (2005) 'We, ourselves and who else? The role of self versus others in conceptualisation of authority in scientific discourse'. 3rd International Conference on Discourse, Communication and Enterprise (DICOEN), Rio de Janeiro. Education • 1997: PhD - English linguistics (Stockholm University) • 1996: Postgraduate Teacher's Qualification - English language (Stockholm Institute of Education) • 1993: BA - English, German linguistics (Stockholm University)
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.