Online Program

Strategic Risk Communication in a Black Swan Event

Monday, November 2, 2015 : 1:22 p.m. - 1:35 p.m.

Jana Telfer, MA, Office of Communication/Office of Science, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA
Jonathan Said, Africa Governance Initiative, London, United Kingdom
Dagny Olivares, MPA, Office of State, Tribal and Territorial Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA

As known confirmed cases of Ebola topped 75 per day, public messaging in Liberia included with little attention to framing of issues or communication about the national response. Liberian government places public communication in a discrete ministry, and the demands of responding to the world’s first Ebola epidemic left government officials limited time to communicate across ministries. With insufficient beds, a faltering national hotline, and rising case numbers, pressure to articulate a solution was intense.

Risk communication research supports systematic application of certain principles when uncertainty exists. Anticipatory guidance, information about actions leading to solutions, and acknowledgement of conditions can be easily implemented methods.

The Africa Governance Initiative and CDC led development of a national risk communication plan to address health issues within a larger “Ebola consequences” plan. The Ministry of Information established a joint communication committee involving key international partners and affected ministries. The committee affirmed the risk communication frame and identified and implemented activities to amplify information sharing.

A thrice-weekly bulletin, incorporating risk communication messaging, summarized response actions for media and across government. Regular national news conferences explained health response actions as well as issues facing other parts of government. Incident command leadership as well as senior government officials adopted cautionary language, acknowledging progress while tempering expectations. Consistency in framing increased across government.

As cases dropped, leaders continued to urge caution and focus on eliminating Ebola. Liberia’s experience illustrates how applied risk communication can affect leadership communication about a crisis without extensive training.


Learning Areas:

Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs

Learning Objectives:
Identify three risk communication methods that are effective in complex emergencies. Explain how risk communication can affect public alignment with emergency response messages.

Keyword(s): Health Promotion and Education, Evidence-Based Practice

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: One of CDC’s senior risk communication experts, Jana L. Telfer spent nearly 3 months in West Africa working with the Liberian Ministries of Health and Information in the Ebola response. During the Fukushima nuclear incident, she was in Japan to help the U.S. Ambassador. As an expert in applied crisis, emergency and risk communication, she values sharing information to help people under stress make better decisions.
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.