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What Does “Risk Communication” Mean to You?

What Does “Risk Communication” Mean to You?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Amanda Whiting 

Before I began my internship at START, the words “risk communication” and “resilience” meant nothing to me. All I knew was that I was applying for something that sounded interesting and pertained to terrorism research. I had little to no background in communication, save the required introductory Gen-Ed class all University of Maryland undergraduates are required to complete. As a Biology and Public Health Science major, I was uncertain of how these keywords would relate to my field of interest, but I applied anyway.

In sum, I’ve learned that risk communication has a fluid and dynamic definition that is unique to its exigence. Broadly, it is defined as the way a community converses about past, present, and future risk events. These bring about a few important keywords: preparedness, response, and recovery [1]. Often, communities undergo training in order to manage themselves and the conflict at hand, to be as well prepared as possible and minimize damage or loss. The main question that START’s Risk Communication and Resilience team is asking flows seamlessly into the existing conversation: how can we be better prepared for disasters, how can we cooperate and communicate effectively in their midst, and how is the aftermath handled best?

Still, you might be wondering how I was able to form a connection between biology/public health and risk communication in terrorism research. I, too, was surprised when I learned that these topics are directly associated.

START has conducted studies that have focused on the best practices for preparation in regards to public health emergency planning [2]. My interest was piqued when I learned that I would join a team that was analyzing emergency plans in schools, and investigating issues that communities are exposed to in the face of disaster warnings and false alarms [3][4]. One project focuses on analyzing disaster plans and management for communities, specifically hospitals, throughout the nation. Another focuses on the use of social media to determine which channels of communication work best to spread warnings or information during crises. The Risk Communication and Resilience team at START has won multiple awards for their research, and with so many opportunities to work on interesting and valuable projects, I’m excited to see what more this internship has to offer.

Though the words “risk communication” and “resilience” originally held no significance for me, I now realize their worth. In a world where disasters are an imminent threat, START’s research findings and highly developed education materials are invaluable.

Though I have only a month of experience under my belt, START has made some strong initial impressions on me. After the internship orientation and a few days of work, I learned that tasks here at START are sometimes difficult, but always meaningful. Passion radiates from every employee when they speak about their job. The enthusiasm is contagious—I’m excited too. As an intern, I don’t deliver coffees, schedule appointments, or answer the phone (as important as those tasks may be). I actually have the opportunity to add to the meaningful work that START researchers have contributed to the field. I’ve learned so much about topics I had never considered or even dreamed I’d have the chance to study. It has become clear to me that in our world today, risk communication and resilience research is increasingly important. What we do here matters, and that is the best outcome that I could hope to gain from any internship.

1: https://www.start.umd.edu/sites/default/files/files/publications/UnderstandingRiskCommunicationTheory.pdf

2: https://www.start.umd.edu/research-projects/best-practices-preparing-communities-citizen-engagement-public-health-planning

3: https://www.start.umd.edu/research-projects/school-emergency-public-information-and-warninginformation-sharing

4: https://www.start.umd.edu/research-projects/understanding-tornado-warnings-false-alarms-and-complacency-and-proposing-theory