Peter Sandman:
Risk = Hazard + Outrage: Three Paradigms of Risk Communication - and a critique of COVID-19 Crisis Communication

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One key to risk communication is the extremely low correlation between how serious a risk is and how upsetting it is – in his jargon, between “hazard” and “outrage.” The first half of the talk will address some implications of this low correlation and the resulting three paradigms of risk communication:

  • “Precaution advocacy” when hazard is high and outrage is low – alerting insufficiently upset people to serious risks.
  • “Outrage management” when hazard is low and outrage is high – reassuring excessively upset people about small risks.
  • “Crisis communication” when hazard is high and outrage is also high – helping appropriately upset people cope with serious risks.

The second half of the talk will look at a specific example that has obsessed us all since early 2020: COVID-19 crisis communication. Dr. Sandman will cherry-pick some aspects of crisis communication that he thinks has been especially badly handled vis-à-vis the pandemic, at least in the U.S.

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Dr Peter Sandman, the creator of the "Risk = Hazard + Outrage" formula for risk communication, is one of the preeminent risk communication speakers and consultants in the United States and has worked extensively in Europe, Australia and elsewhere. He received his Ph.D. in Communication from Stanford in 1971. He went on to become professor at Rutgers University from 1977-1995, where he founded the Environmental Communication Research Program (ECRP) at Rutgers in 1986 and was its director till 1992. Dr Sandman left the university to become a full-time risk communication consultant.

Dr Sandman started retiring in 2016, and by 2019 he was 95% retired. Then in January 2020 he saw the COVID-19 pandemic emerging. Having worked on risk communication aspects of bird flu, swine flu, Ebola, Zika, and other infectious diseases crises dating all the way back to the start of HIV, he unretired to help with COVID-19 pandemic risk communication. He still tries to help from the sidelines – posting pandemic-related articles and columns on his website, (46 so far, starting January 31, 2020); doing media interviews; and giving risk communication advice (solicited or unsolicited, paid or unpaid) to public health experts and officials around the world.