Risk Communication

What are the messages delivered during and after a serious crisis, such as a large-scale chemical release, widely distributed product contamination, or identification of a disease cluster? In such situations, sound, practiced, and thoughtful risk communication is required for preventing ineffective, incorrect, and potentially damaging results. Equally important are risk communications involving less urgent issues, such as community approval for reuse of Brownfield property or outreach regarding chemical emissions from a regulated source. Risk communication of objective, impartial, and rational data, delivered by real experts, fosters confidence and assists in managing these situations. With increasing pressure for stakeholder involvement in the decision-making process, and intense media interest in contaminant exposures and associated health outcomes, effective risk communication is paramount for minimizing the negative outcomes in critical or crisis-driven situations.

Many Exponent scientists, engineers, and physicians are professionally trained in risk communication—in addition to their technical area of expertise—and have years of experience communicating potential hazards to the lay public, the news media, and government decision makers in times of controversy and fear. This is especially critical when communicating the potential health risks associated with chemical exposures to an audience that is not familiar with the technical approaches and jargon used to assess risk, or with the scientific or regulatory process. Risk communicators must be cognizant of the needs, technical sophistication, and vocabulary of the audience. Because the use and output of risk assessment are socially determined, Exponent’s specialists in risk assessment, toxicology, and medicine work with our in-house colleagues in the social sciences. The communication team identifies the critical issues concerning the audience, establishes the means of communication that will best convey the technical information in a clear and understandable manner (e.g., decode the science), and tracks the effectiveness of such communication. 

Because of Exponent’s tremendous depth and diversity of expertise, we are capable of assembling teams with specific multidisciplinary expertise to rapidly evaluate and communicate about risk among different audiences. We use a variety of strategies to provide reliable scientific information regarding real and perceived public concerns about health and environmental issues. Risk communication with individuals and community leaders has always been a facet of Exponent projects, often under high-visibility circumstances where misinformation is rampant in the media and on the Internet. 

Exponent scientists, engineers, and physicians have the expertise and experience necessary to understand the underlying societal issues that prompt questions about health and environmental risks, and have been trained in the principles of effective communication. This combination ensures that the results of our risk assessments will be interpreted correctly and used properly for decision making, assisting our clients in fostering confidence and managing crisis and community outreach situations.