Communicating Environmental Risk in Multiethnic Communities

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Michael K. Lindell & Ronald W. Perry

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  • Communicating Effectively in Multicultural Contexts

    Series Editors: William B. Gudykunst and Stella Ting-Toomey

    Department of Speech Communication California State University, Fullerton

    The books in this series are designed to help readers communicate effectively in various multicultural contexts. Authors of the volumes in the series translate relevant communication theories to provide readable and comprehensive descriptions of the various multicultural contexts. Each volume contains specific suggestions for how readers can communicate effectively with members of different cultures and/or ethnic groups in the specific contexts covered in the volume. The volumes should appeal to people interested in developing multicultural awareness or improving their communication skills, as well as anyone who works in a multicultural setting.

    Volumes in this series

    • BRIDGING JAPANESE/NORTH AMERICAN DIFFERENCES
      • William B. Gudykunst and Tsukasa Nishida
    • INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION TRAINING: An Introduction
      • Richard W. Brislin and Tomoko Yoshida
    • EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION IN MULTICULTURAL HEALTH CARE SETTINGS
      • Gary L. Kreps and Elizabeth N. Kunimoto
    • MULTICULTURAL PUBLIC RELATIONS: A Social-Interpretive Approach
      • Stephen P. Banks
    • COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY WITH THE CHINESE
      • Ge Gao and Stella Ting-Toomey
    • MANAGING INTERCULTURAL CONFLICT EFFECTIVELY
      • Stella Ting-Toomey and John G. Oetzel
    • COMMUNICATING ENVIRONMENTAL RISK IN MULTIETHNIC COMMUNITIES
      • Michael K. Lindell and Ronald W. Perry

    Copyright

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    Preface

    Many of the ideas underlying risk communication have a long history, but the identification of risk communication as a distinct subject matter has occurred only in the past two decades. The current era in risk communication can be defined as beginning with a risk communication conference held in Washington D.C. in 1986, which brought together speakers and an audience from a broad range of organizations and disciplines with an interest in this topic. The speakers at this conference included representatives from Congress, federal and state government agencies, chemical companies, law firms, nongovernmental organizations, environmental groups, the news media, and universities.

    The emergence of risk communication as a field seems to have stemmed from the increasing recognition that there are many problems in which people must exchange information—about their beliefs and evaluations of undesirable outcomes, about the actions that can be taken to avoid those outcomes, and about the social roles (especially rights and responsibilities) of the parties involved. Accordingly, risk communication arises in a number of distinct areas, including lifestyle choices (e.g., diet and exercise), occupational activities (e.g., use of industrial solvents), food and drugs (e.g., pesticide residues on fruit), consumer products (e.g., automobiles), technological facilities (e.g., production, storage, and transportation of chemicals), and occupancy of geographic areas prone to natural hazard impacts (e.g., floodplains).

    There are some important differences between some areas of risk communication, but there are also useful similarities between others. Thus, this book is not about risk communication in general but, rather, about environmental risk communication. In particular, we are persuaded that the technological risks of hazardous facilities and transportation are quite similar to the risks of natural hazards in terms of their exposure mechanisms and, equally important, their often being addressed by the same government agencies (especially emergency management agencies). For example, there are both technological and natural hazards that can be classified as chronic environmental risks involving the release of low levels of hazardous materials whose effects accumulate over time. Similarly, there are both technological and natural hazards that involve catastrophic risks—typically involving the rapid release of large quantities of hazardous materials or energy. Catastrophic materials hazards include releases of toxic chemicals, such as chlorine or radiological materials from a nuclear power plant, but can sometimes result from natural sources, such as volcanic eruptions. Catastrophic energy hazards can result from releases of flammable or explosive materials, such as liquefied natural gas, as well as from natural sources, such as ground shaking in the case of earthquakes and wind forces in the cases of hurricanes and tornadoes.

    For a broad group of practitioners that we refer to as environmental hazard managers, such hazards raise broad scientific questions about the magnitudes of the events that could occur in a specific community. This includes the types and quantities of hazardous materials that might be released from specific facilities or transportation routes, the maximum probable magnitude of an earthquake, and the recurrence intervals of different flood discharges. Other questions, especially regarding hazardous materials, include environmental transport processes through soil, groundwater, surface water, and the atmosphere. There also are concerns about both natural and technological hazards regarding the nature of the biological effects on those exposed and the variations in the sensitivity of different population segments to these exposures.

    These environmental hazards need to be explained to those at risk, but they also raise questions about the management of these hazards by stakeholders in the community. These stakeholders include any industries that are the sources of risk, government agencies that must respond to these hazards, and households and businesses that are vulnerable to the hazards. Risk communication is needed by stakeholders to work toward a consensus regarding the proportion of the community's resources allocated to each of the four principal methods of environmental hazard management—hazard mitigation, emergency preparedness, emergency response, and disaster recovery. Risk communication also is needed to determine the nature of each stakeholder's contribution to environmental hazard management, that is, what the specific responsibilities of government and industry and of households and businesses will be.

    We have made two significant theoretical choices in writing this book. First, we adopted the classic communication model (Source-Channel-Message-Receiver-Effect-Feedback) as the best way to explain the fundamental dyadic relationship that underlies all communication. We are aware that some scholars (e.g., Kasperson & Stallen, 1991) have characterized the classic communication model as inadequate, but its limitations are more apparent than real. Claims that the classic communication model is only unidirectional are countered by noting that there is a feedback loop in the model that is a shorthand way of saying that the roles of source and receiver can be reversed. Thus, the initial receiver can use the same or a different channel to transmit a message to the initial sender.

    Moreover, claims that the classic communication model cannot adequately represent the flow of information through complex social networks are likewise unfounded. In principle, each link (more precisely known in network theory as an arc or edge) directly connecting a source and a receiver (known as a pair of nodes or vertices) in a communication network can be described in terms of the channels that define that link and the messages that are transmitted over it. Thus, a network generalization of the classic communication model can account for multiple receivers from a single source, multiple sources for a single receiver, and indirect paths from a source (via intermediate sources) to an ultimate receiver. We do not contend that practitioners should attempt to develop detailed network models, but we do discuss the ways in which they can adapt their risk communication plans and procedures to the demands that complex networks will place on them.

    Second, we have relied on the Protective Action Decision Model (PADM) as the most suitable way to explain the relationship between communicated information and protective behavior. The PADM, which has been developed from research conducted over the past 25 years, is similar in some respects to other attitude-behavior models (such as the Health Belief Model, Theory of Reasoned Action, Protection Motivation Theory, and Person-Relative-to-Event Theory) in its adoption of an expectancy-valence model of decision making. It also has elements in common with Janis and Mann's Conflict Model of Decisionmaking. We believe that the PADM contains the most useful features of each of these models (or the earlier research on which they were based), as well as some distinctive aspects that are particularly well suited to explaining people's attempts to protect themselves, their families, and their property from environmental hazards.

    This book is intended to overcome two major limitations of previous books on environmental risk communication. The first of these is the low priority, if not outright neglect, of risk communication about natural hazards. Most of the books and articles on risk communication have addressed chronic releases from technological facilities—an important topic to be sure, but one that involves many issues that are different from issues such as informing people about the long-term risks of natural hazards (which usually are a low priority for public officials and citizens alike) and warning them of an imminent threat.

    The other neglected issue concerns the challenges involved in communicating environmental risks to multiethnic communities. As succeeding chapters will show, ethnic diversity is an important part of the community context that affects the processing of information during the protective action decision-making process. Multiethnic communities are already a fact of life in many parts of the country and, as minority populations grow, will become a challenge in more communities in coming decades.

    This book was written principally for professionals in emergency management, community planning, public administration, and environmental health, as well as students in those fields. It also will be useful to risk communication scholars in departments of anthropology, communication, geography, marketing, political science, psychology, and sociology. Accordingly, we have sought to provide a review of the most relevant literature on environmental risk communication and to briefly summarize relevant propositions from the fundamental theories of communication and decision making that are relevant to this topic. Chapter 1 provides an overview of environmental hazard management and summarizes the role of ethnicity in community functioning. Chapter 2 reviews the principal theories from social science that are relevant to risk communication. Chapter 3 summarizes the literature on disaster response, focusing on people's reactions to disaster warnings, and identifies the implications of these findings for the design and implementation of warning systems. Chapter 4 reviews and summarizes the literature on the adoption and implementation of hazard adjustments—risk reduction actions consisting of hazard mitigation actions taken to provide passive protection at the time of hazard impact, emergency preparedness actions taken to support active response after hazard impact, and recovery preparedness actions (e.g., hazard insurance) taken to provide the financial resources needed to recover from disaster impact. Chapter 5 identifies the tasks that environmental hazard managers should perform in each of three stages—the continuing hazard stage, an escalating crisis, and an emergency response—to explain the environmental hazards to which their community is exposed, the actions public authorities and local industry are taking to manage these risks, and the actions that households and businesses can take to reduce their vulnerability.

    The ideas that are presented in the following chapters come from many sources. Those derived from the research literature are cited in the conventional manner throughout the text. Other ideas were derived from work that we have done for a variety of other organizations, including Boston Edison; GAF Chemical; Long Island Lighting; Smith-Kline Chemical; the Phoenix Fire Department; the Arizona Division of Emergency Management; Local Emergency Planning Committees for Ingham and Muskegon Counties; State Emergency Response Commissions for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio; the Texas Governor's Division of Emergency Management; the Federal Emergency Management Agency; the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    We gratefully acknowledge that many of the concepts in this book come from research projects that were funded by the National Science Foundation (most recently, by Grants CMS0219155 and CMS9796297). However, the conclusions and recommendations presented in the following chapters do not necessarily reflect the positions of any of the organizations mentioned above. The interpretations of the research literature and our work experiences are our responsibility alone.

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    About the Authors

    Michael K. Lindell is the Director of the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center (HRRC) at Texas A&M University and has 30 years of experience in the field of emergency management, conducting research on community adjustment to floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and releases of radiological and toxic materials. He worked for many years as an emergency preparedness contractor to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and has provided technical assistance on radiological emergency preparedness for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, and nuclear utilities. In addition, he has trained as a Hazardous Materials Specialist at the Michigan Hazardous Materials Training Center and worked on hazardous materials emergency preparedness with State Emergency Response Commissions, Local Emergency Planning Committees, and chemical companies. In the past few years, Lindell directed HRRC staff performing hurricane hazard analysis and evacuation planning for the entire Texas Gulf coast. He has made over 120 presentations before scientific societies and short courses for emergency planners, as well as being an invited participant in workshops on risk communication and emergency management in this country and abroad. Lindell has also written extensively on emergency management and is the author of over 120 technical reports and journal articles, as well as 5 books.

    Ronald W. Perry completed his Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Washington. He joined Arizona State University in 1983 as Professor of Public Affairs. Perry has been engaged in the study of natural and technological hazards and disasters since 1971. His principal interests are in warning behavior, public education, and community preparedness. In 1997 he began studying incident management systems and emergency operations centers. He has published 14 books and more than 100 journal articles in these areas of interest. Perry currently serves on the Arizona Domestic Preparedness Terrorism Task Force, the U.S. Veteran's Health Administrations Task Force on Emergency Healthcare, the Arizona Council for Earthquake Safety, and the steering committee of the Phoenix Metropolitan Medical Response System. In 1996 Perry was given the Award for Excellence in Emergency Management by the Arizona Emergency Services Association. In 1999 he received both the Award for Outstanding Environmental Achievement by a Team from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a Certificate of Recognition from Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government. In 2003 the City of Phoenix selected him to receive the Pearce Memorial Award for Contributions to Hazardous Incident Management.


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