Public Messaging: Risk Communication for Disaster Preparedness, Evacuation, and Sheltering, June 5, 2020, Workshop Conducted Virtually
Participants in the breakout sessions for the CONVERGE COVID-19 Working Group’s Workshop 4 (Public Messaging) identified key issues that included the need to provide timely and effective communication to the public, increasing awareness around using shelters as a refuge of last resort, addressing the risks associated with COVID-19 exposure at shelters, and using various inclusive forms of public messaging to reach a wide audience.
Workshop participants emphasized the importance of timely and effective communications to support informed decision making. There is ongoing concern over balancing the need to communicate the risks of COVID-19 exposure as it relates to evacuation shelters (to create public awareness and informed decision making) and the potential to create unnecessary fear. This balance will entail clear and consistent communications from regional, state, and local authorities. The messaging also will need to emphasize that shelters are a last resort option and to highlight the importance of personal preparedness. This includes “know your zone” and “know your home.” For some people, staying at their house and not evacuating could be less risky than going to an evacuation shelter; messaging to create this public awareness is essential. One proposal was to encourage people to reach out to family and friends preemptively, identifying evacuation plans that avoiding shelters in advance of the hurricane season. Public messaging also should include information on how personal preparedness kits should be adjusted or augmented to account for the additional hazards this hurricane season from COVID-19. Workshop participants simultaneously recognized that COVID-19 has already created additional burdens on the population that might impede evacuees from adequately preparations. Based on these conversations, early communication and preparedness are urgently needed.
In addition to identifying what should be communicated to the public, participants also discussed the types of questions the public might ask and what data will be used to respond. They suggested that effective communications should include awareness of underlying fears and other emotions that the public may experience. It is critical that shelter management guidelines—such as social distancing and mask requirements—are communicated to the public to increase transparency and to provide information on what will be expected. Suggested items to mention to the public before a hurricane makes landfall include, but are not limited to, what resources will be available at shelters (e.g., will masks be provided or will they need to bring their own), what the intake process will involve, and how people will be isolated if they appear symptomatic or have been identified as COVID-positive. Furthermore, information regarding evacuation shelters will require a greater degree of specificity for medically fragile individuals and other vulnerable populations.
CONVERGE COVID-19 Working Group; Behr, Joshua G.; Yusuf, Wie; Marshall, Jennifer; and Dunn, Elizabeth, "Workshop #4: Public Messaging: Risk Communication for Disaster Preparedness, Evacuation, and Sheltering: After-Action Report (AAR)" (2020). Presentations, Lectures, Posters, Reports. 23.