ISDR Informs - The Americas

Social communication in risk management:
Concepts to be remembered and applied

• Communication management gives “value” to risk management; it stimulates, promotes, influences, persuades and facilitates understanding, and modifies behaviors and attitudes.
• Communication is often confused with information. However, it is important to bear in mind that communication is an “essential process” in any prevention or response action, and in the planning of post-disaster reconstruction or reinstatement processes. Communication provides basic inputs so that both the speaker and the recipient of messages can relate to each other appropriately, interact proactively and establish an optimal feedback channel.
• Currently, the vast influx of data that any person or institution can manage is of such a volume that it is necessary to rate the information or establish hierarchies so that data is transformed into effective communication.

Organizations have a number of communication instruments that must be used tactically. Generally, when information is confused with communication, these instruments do not allow us to have a positive impact on behaviors and attitudes. For this reason, it is necessary to design communication plans and programs that establish actions in the short, medium and long terms. During times of emergency or disaster preparedness, as well in prevention, mitigation, and response in the community, the strategic application of communication instruments allow us to better issue messages intended for different target groups.

• In principle, when referring to communications of risk, we also allude to information and dissemination as part of the process, which is composed of:

1. An explanation of the origin of the hazard, as well as of prevention and preparedness.
2. A description of the different levels of vulnerability and various ways to reduce it.

When generating messages intended for the population at large, for instance, basic information must include how the combination of these two elements may lead to risk situations. Then, communication will address prevention issues or an emergency, depending on its purpose and timeliness within the actions carried out when risks take place.

• If we base our actions on documents of global consensus, such as the Hyogo Framework for Action or the Millennium Development Goals, we will have to foster, through social communication, the dissemination of tools that allow us to understand how to reduce our own vulnerabilities. In this way, risk communication would be the confluence or the synthesis of information on dangers or hazards and information on the characteristics of existing vulnerabilities.

Thus, we can infer that social communications surrounding risk have two different implementation “moments,” within the public and private sectors working on disaster prevention and response:
a) When raising awareness among society so that it perceives its own vulnerability to certain hazards and discovers its strengths to reduce their consequences; and
b) When promoting actions aimed at reducing vulnerability, so that the population is prepared to face any event that could become a disaster.

To communicate is intrinsic to every human being. In the case of risk management, we must do so with clearness, opportunity, adaptability, effectiveness and precision. This is why communication management is essential.

Gloria Bratschi
International consultant in risk management, university professor and researcher
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