Communicating in a Crisis - Risk communication for Public Officials

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Primary Target Country
Publishing Organisation SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
Language English
Year Published 2019
Target Audience Media, Policy Makers, Practitioners
Status Published
Disaster Management Phase After, Before, During
Covers Thematic Content creation, Crisis communication
Audience Experience Level Starter
Source Website
Abstract This guide focuses on the following areas:
  • A brief orientation and perspective on the media for public officials, including discussion of how the media thinks and works, and on the public as the end-recipient of information
  • Techniques for responding to and cooperating with the media in conveying information and delivering messages before, during, and after a public health crisis
  • Tools of the trade of media relations and public communications
  • Strategies and tactics for addressing opportunities and challenges that may arise as a consequence of communications initiatives

Five Rules for Building Trust and Credibility

  • 1. Accept and involve the public as a partner.
    • Work with and for the public to inform, dispel misinformation and, to every degree possible, allay fears and concerns.
  • 2. Appreciate the public’s specific concerns.
    • Statistics and probabilities don’t necessarily answer all questions.
    • Be sensitive to people’s fears and worries on a human level.
    • Your position does not preclude your acknowledging the sadness of an illness, injury, or death.
    • Do not overstate or dwell on tragedy, but do empathize with the public and provide answers that respect their humanity.
  • 3. Be honest and open.
    • Once lost, trust and credibility are almost impossible to regain.
    • Never mislead the public by lying or failing to provide information that is important to their understanding of issues.
  • 4. Work with other credible sources.
    • Conflicts and disagreements among organizations and credible spokespersons create confusion and breed distrust.
    • Coordinate your information and communications efforts with those of other legitimate parties.
  • 5. Meet the needs of the media.
    • Never refuse to work with the media.
    • The media’s role is to inform the public, which will be done with or without your assistance.
    • Work with the media to ensure that the information they are providing the public is as accurate and enlightening as possible.
    • If your agency or organization has a communications office, work with them on approaches to dealing with the media.

SOURCE: Covello and Allen, 1988; Palttala, Boano, Lund, & Vos, 2012


  • Communications Fundamentals
  • Communicating Complex, Scientific, and Technical Information
  • Myths, Principles, And Pitfalls
  • Understanding and Working with the Media
  • Using Social Media Before And During Crises
  • Correcting Errors and Rumor Control
  • Assessing Personal Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Presenting Information at Public Meetings
  • Recognizing Opportunities to Speak Out
Is Archived No
Covers platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

The guideline gives comprehensive advice about effective Risk Communication with the public and especially the media.