Public Perceptions About Trust in Emergency Risk Communication: Qualitative Research Findings

March 2006 (VOL. 24, NO. 1)

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Communication to the general public is a critical component of effective emergency response following terrorism events. Trust is essential to effective communication. Four Schools of Public Health conducted focus groups across the country with different ethnic groups to inform development of public messages and strategies in the event of an emergency. Secondary analysis of the transcripts was conducted to explore factors related to trust in government. General lack of confidence in the government’s ability to respond was associated with concerns about preparedness, lack of disclosure and dedication. Local officials and emergency responders were more trusted than federal officials, and were associated with greater levels of disclosure and empathy. Past experience contributed to perceptions of trust. Urban groups were more concerned about officials’ honesty; whereas rural groups were concerned about resource allocation. Local organizations and agencies were most trusted, as well as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross (ARC). The findings lead to recommendations related to allocation of emergency response resources for underserved areas; integration of local and federal agencies in emergency response preparedness and communication; and an emphasis on full disclosure, action steps, and leadership in emergency response communication.