A Conceptual Model for Evaluating Emergency Risk Communication in Public Health

Health Secur. May/Jun 2018;16(3):193-203. doi: 10.1089/hs.2018.0020.


Public health threats, such as emerging infectious diseases, terrorism, environmental catastrophes, and natural disasters, all require effective communication. Emergency risk communication is a critical component of public health emergency planning and response. It is a complex process involving a variety of constructs that interact in dynamic ways over time. While emergency risk communication is generally recognized as an important tool for risk management and emergency response, the specific elements, processes, and outcomes are not well described and have not been systematically assessed. In this article, we describe a conceptual model for public health developed in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We propose using this model to inform practice and to guide evaluations of emergency risk communication. The model was informed by an extensive review of the emergency risk communication literature, interviews with researchers, and discussions with CDC stakeholders. This model can be adapted for a wide range of emergency events and incorporates key constructs to assess internal processes, as well as outcomes of emergency risk communication on audiences. Evaluating internal processes can help identify and correct messaging deficiencies. Outcome constructs describe expected target audience responses to emergency risk communication, such as changes in knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that may occur over time. This can help public health communicators learn how their various activities contribute to emergency risk communication outcomes.

Keywords: Public health preparedness/response; Risk communication.

MeSH terms

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S.
  • Civil Defense / methods*
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging
  • Communication*
  • Disaster Planning / methods
  • Disaster Planning / organization & administration*
  • Disasters
  • Emergencies*
  • Humans
  • Public Health*
  • Terrorism
  • United States