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CDC Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Best Practices Study


In communication research, “messages” is a specialized term and does not imply only “official” communication. Messages can be from any source and circulate through different channels.
There is an extensive literature on the characteristics that make crisis and emergency risk communication messages effective. Experts have labeled these characteristics available to the public were consistent with these “best practices”. “Best practices” were identified by an expert panel that reviewed and synthesized a range of publications on emergency and crisis communication, and reached consensus on six crisis and emergency risk messaging best practices. These six best practices are: explain what is known, explain what is not known, explain how or why the event happened, promote action, express empathy, and express commitment. The proportion estimates for these six different crisis and emergency risk message best practices were calculated.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of the Associate Director for Communication
Data Years Available: 
Mode of Collection: 
Content analysis of newspaper and broadcast television news coverage of foodborne illness outbreaks and natural disasters.
Selected Content: 
CDC staff conducted a content analysis of newspaper and television news coverage of foodborne illness outbreaks and natural disasters. The content analysis includes an examination of articles in major U.S. newspapers and evening news broadcasts from five U.S. networks appearing in 2010-2011. Newspaper stories of the events described in the broadcast sample were obtained via a LexisNexis search of the top 25 circulated newspapers in the U.S., that combined, reach almost 1 out of every 4 U.S. households. The Vanderbilt Television News Archive, the most comprehensive broadcast archive in the world and the authoritative source for Library of Congress archived recordings, was used to search evening news broadcasts from U.S. national television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and FOX). On average, about 24 million Americans watched one of the five news programs each night during 2011. These numbers likely understate the reach of news stories that also appear on the networks’ web sites and mobile platforms and are broadcast on radio stations. Harris Interactive reports that Americans still trust major media outlets to deliver fair and unbiased news.
Population Covered: 

Staff analyzed and coded 186 foodborne outbreak event stories and 184 natural disaster event stories (Total N=370) for the presence or absence of the six best practices in crisis and emergency risk communication. Coders achieved an 89% inter-coder agreement level using the Holsti formula, and a Cohen’s Kappa of 0.71 was calculated, indicating substantial agreement. Frequencies of crisis and emergency risk message best practices were counted. The frequency of messages exemplifying one of the six best practices divided by the total number of stories yielded proportions of messages that conformed to one of the six best practices.

Response Rates and Sample Size: 


Interpretation Issues: