International Conference on Applications of Statistics and Probability in Civil Engineering (ICASP) (12th : 2015)

Communicating risk in major incidents : the public's perception Swan, Lauren; Waring, Sara; Alison, Laurence; Beer, Michael


There are many examples of unpredicted natural and man-made disasters occurring over the past few decades, for example Hillsborough (1989) and the 7/7 Bombings (2005). Most of these incidents led to legislative reform to either improve infrastructure or the operational response, in an attempt to minimise future risks. However, suggested changes have not taken into consideration how to manage and communicate risk to the public. This is despite the impact that ineffective risk communication could have on both potential casualties and the environment. For example, during the Fukushima accident (2011) people were evacuated from light radioactive areas and ended up in more heavily contaminated areas, partly due to poor risk communication (Robertson et al., 2012). In order to investigate the current status of acceptance from the public when receiving risk information in an emergency, a large-scale live multi-agency training event was developed. This event was based on a ferry collision, which resulted in the release of a potential contaminant, requiring members of the public to undergo mass decontamination. Data was collected using questionnaires and conducting post incident debriefs with a total of 53 members of the public who played the role of ‘passengers’ on-board the ferry. Data was analysed using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. Findings indicate that the operational element was accepted, and often praised, but participants had problems with the non-technical side of the response, particularly the communication; this had a significant impact on the perception of the services involved. It is recommended that there is more frequent, clear and direct communication given to the public throughout a disaster as it will potentially increase the level of compliance and reassurance, and will reduce anxiety. This will benefit the agencies involved as effective communication has been found to increase trust and promote future confidence in agencies (Carter et al., 2013). This research has future implications for policy making, disaster management, and improving risk communication to members of the public.

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