Relating Messages to Risk Perceptions

Stylized words,

Not all risks are perceived equally by an audience. Risk perception can be thought of as a combination of hazard—the technical or scientific measure of a risk—and outrage—the emotions that the risk evokes. As emergency communicators, we must understand how affected populations perceive risks to develop effective messages.

Don’t dismiss outrage. The mistake some officials make is to measure the magnitude of the crisis only based on how many people are physically hurt or how much property is destroyed. Remember that we must also consider the emotional trauma associated with a crisis.

Emotions surrounding a tragedy may vary based on a number of factors. Responders should expect greater public outrage and more demands for information if the disaster is manmade and, especially, if it’s intentional and targeted. Unfairly distributed and unfamiliar catastrophes can cause people to feel anger, frustration, helplessness, fear, and a desire for revenge. These emotions can affect how an audience receives public health messages.

Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) principles provide communicators with useful tools to improve emergency communications. CERC can help responders understand how some risks are more easily accepted than others, and to anticipate and address these potential barriers to communication. Used effectively, CERC can help to ensure that communicators are responding to people’s real needs in an emergency.

For more information on CERC visit our website and check out the CERC manual. You can also read previous CERC Corners.

Have you used CERC in your work? To share your CERC stories, e-mail Your stories may appear in future CERC Corners.

Page last reviewed: March 24, 2017 (archived document)