Developing Effective Risk Communication: Understanding Public Decision Making During Response and Recovery to Natural Disasters

Principal Investigator: Heather Rosoff

Other Researchers: Richard John, Vicki Bier


How well the public identifies, prepares for and recovers from a large scale natural disaster depends in large part on the decision making of local residents. Effective communication with the public well in advance of any disaster, as well as during the disaster so that they have some idea of what is going on, is critical in order to provide them with the opportunity to make effective decisions. Equally important is formulating an understanding of the psychology of the public, particularly their personal beliefs and objectives, which often times are conflicting and introduce challenges at critical decision junctures. Anticipating public response allows for the development of risk communications that can better guide public decision making. In this proposed research, we plan to first construct influence diagrams of public preparedness and response to a natural disaster (the specific scenario to be decided in collaboration with the customer), so as to develop an understanding of the basic facts about public decision making. Model development will be driven by the use of our scenario simulation approach, a methodology that uses video simulation to ground responses in the details of a disaster. During these exercises (conducted as focus groups and surveys), researchers will obtain information on the objectives, motivations and uncertainties that shape public decisions. Subsequently, we will recommend risk communication strategies guided by the influence diagram findings, as well as the extensive literature on risk communication (as documented, for example, by Vicki Bier, 2001a, 2001b).