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False Alarms, Real Challenges - One University's Communication Response to the 2001 Anthrax Crisis


Considerable research exists on how government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels communicated during the fall 2001 anthrax attacks. However, there is little research on how other institutions handled this crisis, in terms of their response to potential anthrax contamination (aka "white powder scares") and their approach to disseminating important health and safety information. In this article, we investigate a major university's communication response to the anthrax crisis. First, we describe its communication experiences relating to a large white powder scare that occurred in October 2001. Second, we describe the university's broader communication efforts in terms of several important elements of risk communication research, including influence of source attributes, key messages, preferred channels, responses to information requests, and organizational influences. This study underlines that an institution does not have to be directly affected by a crisis to find itself on the communication "front lines." Moreover, other institutions may find it useful to learn from the experiences of this university, so that they may communicate more effectively during future crises.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Clarke, Christopher E., and Caron Chess. 2006. "False Alarms, Real Challenges - One University's Communication Response to the 2001 Anthrax Crisis." Biosecurity and Bioterrorism. Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science 4 (June): 74-83. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16545026

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