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Natural Hazards Center at CU Boulder: Principles of Risk Communication

PRINCIPLES OF RISK COMMUNICATION: A Guide to Communicating with Socially Vulnerable Populations Across the Disaster Lifecycle


This document is intended to be used as a high-level guide for advancing risk communication best practices. It synthesizes academic research and available guidance on the topic of hazards and disaster risk communication. It draws from an array of evidence-based recommendations for effectively communicating risk across the disaster lifecycle and synthesizes them into three overarching principles:

1) Communicate Through Familiar and Trusted Messengers (pages 5-11)

2) Provide Clear, Actionable Information (pages 12-17)

3) Tailor Message and Information Pathways for Target Audiences (pages 18-23)


Additionally, this guide integrates key insights that can be applied to communication involving socially vulnerable populations. Social vulnerability influences the capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist, and recover from the impact of a disaster. Socially vulnerable populations are thus more likely to experience disproportionate negative impacts from disasters including emotional distress, loss of property, temporary or permanent displacement, illness, and death. Rather than generate a different set of rules for engaging these groups, this document aims to highlight how general, widely accepted risk communication principles can be thoughtfully applied to populations that are often marginalized, overlooked, or difficult to reach.


This guide was prepared by the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder with supplemental support to the National Science Foundation (NSF Award #1635593) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Office of Homeland Security.


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