example, one study investigating how attention to risk and health communications vary by population found pronounced differences between Pakistani, Orthodox Jewish, Chinese, Jamaican, and Caribbean populations even within the same region. Table 4-1 lists key findings of several recent National Center for Disaster Preparedness communications projects.
A number of general factors can influence perceptions of health and risk messages. First, the public must trust both the message and the messenger. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Abramson explained, many residents developed a significant mistrust of authority and the insurance industry. As a result, it is important to carefully select messengers that the target population recognizes as trusted organizations or figures. Additionally, the message must be understandable. Currently, the majority of graphics and data used by the media or policy makers for public communications only use one or two variables. In the context of the oil spill, information may include multiple variables, such as race, occupation, exposure, socioeconomic status, or language. Abramson described some recent projects that have trained practitioners and policy makers to use complex data to target interventions (e.g., “radar charts”) and suggested that the same strategies be used to communicate to the public about disaster preparedness and response. However, said Abramson, communicating with the public also should account for levels of overall health literacy in addition to ease of data interpretation and comprehension.
There is also a question of whether it is productive to include a sense of immediacy in the message. Abramson explained that, in recent focus groups, approximately one-half of individuals interviewed did not want a message to scare them, but the other half felt that alarm was necessary to trigger action. However, Abramson questioned the wisdom of using fear to motivate populations that are ill equipped to adequately respond to the message due to circumstances such as limited economic resources.