A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

START report identifies new ways to train risk communication skills

A new report from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism lays the foundation for developing risk communication training that addresses practitioners' stated needs and observed gaps in current training programs. After surveying 140 risk communicators and analyzing nearly 175 English-language training programs, the research team determined that future programs should incorporate blended learning formats and also train community-based audiences, among other key findings.

The new report points to substantial evidence that blended learning formats improve learning outcomes compared with solely face-to-face or online formats, and that survey respondents said they wanted trainings that combined on- and off-line delivery methods. Based on responses, the researchers also recommend allowing for extended time to complete training sessions and flexibility in training requirements based on the participant's communication background.

Risk communicators also indicated that they wanted to learn how to work better with community partners to circulate risk information more effectively. In addition, the study found gaps between risk communicators' stated needs and their current training options:

  • Though the majority of respondents said they communicate about risks across all event phases -- preparedness, response and recovery -- only 15.3 percent of trainings cover all of those phases.
  • An overwhelming majority of survey respondents (87.1 percent) reported that risk messages should differ according to hazard type. Conversely, only 38.3 percent of trainings focused on specific hazards.
  • Only 6.5 percent of the analyzed trainings included instruction on using social media to reach the public directly, though survey responses highlighted a desire for more social media training, particularly related to the preparedness phase.
  • Only a quarter of the trainings taught learners to develop performance measures or discussed the need to evaluate risk communication plans and performance.

The study is part of a larger, two-year project to develop, deliver and evaluate a scientifically informed program focused on training risk communicators in the United States.

"This project is a great example of START's desire to put research to use in the real world in the form of academically rigorous and theoretically sound training and education," said Bill Braniff, executive director of the START Consortium.

"The methodology used here, combining a literature review, subject matter expert input, survey and content analysis, and curriculum development expertise is a highly effective way to deliver the best possible product to the professional community, and it is a methodology we seek employ whenever we develop consequential training."

The report's authors, Stephanie Madden, Katherine Worboys Izsak, Brooke Fisher Liu and Elizabeth L. Petrun, are currently incorporating the report's findings into the training program they are developing. To further their efforts, Department of Communication doctoral students Julia Daisy Fraustino and Melissa Janoske, Department of Measurement, Statistics, and Evaluation doctoral student Rosalyn Swiggett, and START interns Erika Anderson and Claire Tills are assisting the team in developing different modules of the training process, primarily media relations and audience analysis, as well as a comprehensive evaluation plan for determining the effectiveness of the training. This research was supported by the Resilient Systems Division of the Science and Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The full report,"Risk Communication Training: Research Findings and Recommendations for Training Development," is available at /start/publications/START_ERC_RiskCommunicationTraining_Feb2013.pdf.