Trust, communication and disaster



Why risk communication is tricky…

An interesting post by Ross Anderson on the problems of risk communication, in the wake of the savage storm that the UK has just experienced. Doubly interesting to compare the UK’s disaster communication during this storm to that of the NSW governments during our recent bushfires.

He points out that, based on research on security, people tend not to attend to warnings couched in vague terms, so you should instead try to be very specific. A conclusion that I’d endorse from my experiences in writing procedures for safety critical operations. As a side comment engineers in my experience score very poorly in the ‘be specific’ stakes…

He also points out that such messages are normally interpreted through a filter of trust, so that providing advice as to the ‘what’ is best backed up by the ‘why’, on this case a description of the hazards of a major storm. An approach that Australian authorities could also better apply in my opinion.

Which is probably why historically the US DoD insists in its tech manuals that in any procedural warning first state the hazard, then tell the operator/maintainer what to do about it. Nice that a historical practice actually proves to have some empirical substance.

2 responses to Trust, communication and disaster


    Hi Matthew,

    Interesting. I flew an A380 from Dubai to London Heathrow that landed at 7 am within 30 minutes of the worst of the weather. The story of the notification, preparation and execution is interesting (in the light of your article) as an example of continuous risk (T&E) assessment by many agencies. I’ll document it if there is sufficient interest. Rich