Classifications of Risk

A 2014 report from the CDC lays out the six principles of crisis and emergency risk communication (“CERC”) as:

  1. Be first
  2. Be right
  3. Be credible
  4. Express empathy
  5. Promote action
  6. Show respect

A few factors pointed out as leading to more disasters are:

  • Increased population density in high risk areas
    • Greater density means more people impacted at the same time
    • Flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, hillslides, wildfire impacts
    • Adjacency to hazardous waste landfills, airports, power plants
  • Increased technological risks
    • Hazardous chemical transport over decaying railroad tracks
    • Dependency on tech makes it vulnerable at scale when disrupted
    • Complex technologies can interact in chaotic ways, adding danger
  • Our aging U.S. population
    • Disasters of all kinds disproportionately impact older adults
    • By 2030 U.S. adults over 65 will double to about 71 million
    • Chronic conditions use about 95% of healthcare expenditures
  • Emerging infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  • Increased international travel
  • Increased terrorism

Communicators must inform and persuade the public in the hope that they will plan for and respond appropriately to risks and threats.

CDC (2014)

There are four types of communications:

  1. Crisis communication: For managing the unexpected emergency
  2. Risk communication: For pre-adjusting or adjusting to a crisis
  3. Issues management communication: For managing public questions (like vaccine safety) as an influencing response. In some cases, issues can become a crisis.
  4. Crisis and emergency risk communication: Combines crisis communication and risk communication to help individuals make the best choices possible while helping them accept the imperfect nature of choices available.

And when it comes to public health threats the CDC lists them as:

For disasters in general, Wikipedia has a list of threats by cost with earthquakes in Japan and China at the top, followed by hurricanes in N America

  1. 2011 Tohoku earthquake — $411B
  2. 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake — $329B
  3. 2008 Sichuan earthquake — $176B
  4. 2005 Hurricane Katrina — $165B
  5. 2017 Hurricane Harvey — $130B
  6. 2017 Hurricane Maria — $95B
  7. 2019-20 Australian Bushfire — $70B

CERC 2018 update introduces this table:

Crisis CommunicationIssues Management
Crisis and
Emergency Risk
CommunicatorMember of the
organization impacted
by the crisis
Member of the
organization impacted
by the crisis
Expert who is not
directly impacted by
Expert who is
impacted by
TimingUrgent and
Anticipated; timing is
somewhat controlled
by the communicator
Anticipated with little
or no time pressure
Urgent and
Message PurposeExplain and
Explain and
Explain, persuade,
and empower

Another framework that’s useful is by Coombs and Holladay (2002) that describes crises by attribution of who’s responsible*:

Victim cluster: In these crisis types, the organization is also a victim of the crisis.
(Weak attributions of crisis responsibility = Mild reputational threat)
Natural disasterActs of nature damage an organization such as an earthquake.
Rumor: False and damaging information about an organization is being circulated.
Workplace violence: Current or former employee attacks current employees onsite.
Product tampering/Malevolence: External agent causes damage to an organization.
Accidental cluster: In these crisis types, the organizational actions leading to the crisis were unintentional.
(Minimal attributions of crisis responsibility = Moderate reputational threat)
Challenges: Stakeholders claim an organization is operating in an inappropriate manner.
Technical-error accidents: A technology or equipment failure causes an industrial accident.
Technical-error product harm: A technology or equipment failure causes a product to be recalled.
Intentional cluster: In these crisis types, the organization knowingly placed people at risk, took inappropriate actions or violated a law/regulation. (**Note that this is also called “Preventable cluser”)
(Strong attributions of crisis responsibility = Severe reputational threat)
Human error accidents: Human error causes an industrial accident.
Human-error product harm: Human error causes a product to be recalled.
Organizational misdeed with no injuries: Stakeholders are deceived without injury.
Organizational misdeed management misconduct: Laws or regulations are violated by management.
Organizational misdeed with injuries: Stakeholders are placed at risk by management and injuries occur.
via Wikipedia