Peter M. Sandman Video and Audio
Risk Communication Materials

This page lists all my video and audio risk communication materials – a convenient resource for people who are looking for something to play for a group, or who would rather watch and listen than read. I have a big stack of video and audio recordings – mostly of client presentations – that are not currently online. Over time, I plan to sort through these and post the ones that I think add the most value (and that don’t reveal client confidences). I’ll also try to add new ones when I do a presentation or give an interview that covers material not already covered. I have been far too print-focused for far too long.

The list is not organized chronologically, as the other content lists on this website are. Instead, it is organized by topic. And within each topic area, it is in order of my best guess at what people are going to want to watch or listen to – with the most valuable selections for each topic area at the top, and the “just in case you’re interested” ones at the bottom.


Introduction and Orientation

Outrage Management Course

Presented to the Rio Tinto mining company, Brisbane, Australia, September 16–17, 2010

The clips below are from the first half-day of the two-day course, and constitute a broad introduction to risk communication. Later clips focus specifically on outrage management.

1.   Risk = Hazard + Outrage

This video clip outlines the fundamental distinction between a risk’s “hazard” (how much harm it’s likely to do) and its “outrage” (how upset it’s likely to make people). The selection emphasizes that both hazard perception and hazard response result more from outrage than from hazard.

Two short excerpts from this clip have been posted on YouTube (more or less as advertisements for the clip, and the course as a whole).

2.  Components of Outrage and a Sample Outrage Assessment

This video clip runs through the twelve principal components of outrage (voluntary versus coerced, natural versus industrial, etc.). Then it illustrates these components with a seat-of-the-pants “outrage assessment” of genetically modified food.

3.  Three Paradigms of Risk Communication

This video clip outlines the three main paradigms of risk communication: precaution advocacy (when hazard is high and outrage is low); outrage management (when hazard is low and outrage is high); and crisis communication (when hazard and outrage are both high).

4.  Three Risk Communication “Games”

This video clip describes three risk communication “games”: follow-the-leader (when you’re talking to an audience with no prior opinion); donkey (when you’re talking to an audience whose prior opinion you’re trying to change); and above all seesaw (when your audience is ambivalent, torn between the opinion you’re championing and an opposing opinion).

Communicating Risk: Neglected and Controversial Rules of Thumb

Presented at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Georgia, Athens GA, October 16, 2013

In October 2013, I spent three days at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The main agenda was to negotiate a possible “Sandman Archive” of my papers and web materials, an initiative of the new Grady program in health and risk communication. (See “Working Toward a Legacy.”) But while I was there I also gave a number of class presentations and one public presentation, which was videotaped. I offered my hosts a choice of half a dozen presentation topics, and they asked me to combine them all into a potpourri of interesting risk communication pointers. So this video is different from most of the introductory videos I have posted. It’s got a little of everything. There’s a quick summary of “Risk = Hazard + Outrage” and my three paradigms of risk communication (my usual introductory shtick). But there’s also a discussion of why information is rarely life-changing and why cognitive dissonance can make it so; of why it’s important to be willing to speculate and to be willing to scare people; and of the need for public health professionals to tell the whole truth about vaccination. As I said: a potpourri.

Quantitative Risk Communication: Explaining the Data

Produced by the American Industrial Hygiene Association, 1994

In my approach to risk communication, explaining the data is secondary; addressing outrage – raising it, reducing it, or helping people cope with it – is what’s crucial. Nonetheless, the time comes in most risk communication efforts when you’ve got to explain the data. This studio-produced 1994 video focuses on three key aspects of quantitative risk communication:

  • Motivation – getting people to want to understand the data
  • Simplification – making the data understandable
  • Orientation – keeping people from getting lost

There’s also some discussion of how to address uncertainty and how to handle risk comparisons.

(This video was produced in 1994 by the American Industrial Hygiene Association. It went out of print in 2007. With AIHA’s permission, the entire video is now available free of charge online.)

Atomic Show #205 – Peter Sandman teaches nuclear communicators

Podcast for the “Atomic Insights” website, May 31, 2013 (with Rod Adams, Margaret Harding, Meredith Angwin, and Suzy Hobbs-Baker)

Rod Adams runs a website called “Atomic Insights” that promotes nuclear power. In early May 2013 he discovered my approach to outrage management, and put posts on his own website and on an American Nuclear Society website urging nuclear power proponents to learn outrage management. The responses to his two posts led Rod to invite me to do this podcast.

The podcast itself runs 1 hour and 42 minutes. Most of it is a basic introduction to risk communication and then to outrage management: the hazard-versus-outrage distinction, the components of outrage, the three paradigms of risk communication, the key strategies of outrage management, etc. But I did try to focus especially on what the nuclear power industry and its supporters get wrong – for example, imagining that their core communication mistake is failing to sell their strengths effectively, whereas I believe it is failing to acknowledge their problems candidly. There are recommendations for nuclear communication throughout the podcast, and a Q&A at the end with Rod and fellow proponents Margaret Harding, Meredith Angwin, and Suzy Hobbs-Baker. The plan is to follow up with a second podcast, a more narrowly focused roundtable discussion among the five of us on nuclear power outrage management.

Risk = Hazard + Outrage: Risk Communication Briefing for IT Security Professionals

Presented at the Oracle Chief Security Officer Summit, San Francisco CA, October 4, 2011

Some Oracle people had heard me speak at a conference on financial information security (for bank IT people, mostly), and asked me to do something similar for its 2011 annual IT security “summit.” The presentation does give occasional IT examples, but mostly it’s an introduction to the basics of risk communication – especially the hazard-versus-outrage distinction and the three main risk communication paradigms (precaution advocacy, crisis communication, and outrage management). As usual, audience interest focused mostly on outrage management – especially how to calm stakeholders after a breach that turned out minor. They were less interested in how to arouse stakeholder concern about the possibility of a serious breach, a precaution advocacy issue – though arousing CEO concern had some appeal.

Terrorists vs. Bathtubs

(Edited) interview with Peter Sandman by Brooke Gladstone, June 20, 2013

Aired on National Public Radio’s “On the Media” and posted on its website, June 21, 2013

Risk Communication in Practice

(Complete) interview with Peter Sandman by Brooke Gladstone, June 20, 2013

Brooke Gladstone of “On the Media” interviewed me in my home for 49 minutes. We started out talking about claims by opponents of NSA telephone and email surveillance (in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks) that “more people have died from [whatever] than from terrorism” – and why these sorts of risk comparisons are unlikely to be convincing. That soon got me to the distinction between hazard and outrage. But Brooke didn’t let me do my usual hazard-versus-outrage introductory shtick. Instead, she kept asking for specifics – examples of how precaution advocacy and outrage management strategies work in practice. Toward the end of the interview, she pushed me to shoot from the hip about applications I hadn’t thought through: How would I use risk communication to defend government surveillance? To oppose it? To defend shale gas “fracking”? To oppose that? The interview that resulted is a different sort of introduction to risk communication than the one I usually give. The 10-minute broadcast segment is nicely edited; it’s very smooth and covers most of my main points. But I prefer the roughness and detail of the complete interview.

Risk Communication in Healthcare Settings Podcasts

Taped for the British Columbia (Canada) Provincial Health Services Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health, February 15, 2011

This was a 50-minute telephone interview later divided into four podcasts. Although the intended audience was healthcare managers, the first two podcasts barely mention healthcare, and are really generic. The third and fourth podcasts focus more on healthcare examples, and are listed below in the “Infectious Diseases” section.

1.  Introduction to Risk Communication

This audio clip distinguishes the terms “risk communication,” “risk assessment,” and “crisis communication”; describes the fundamental risk communication distinction between hazard and outrage; and uses that distinction to define the three paradigms of risk communication. It ends with a discussion of how to measure outrage.

2.  Three Paradigms of Risk Communication

This audio clip discusses some key strategies associated with each of the three paradigms of risk communication: precaution advocacy (high hazard, low outrage), outrage management (low hazard, high outrage), and crisis communication (high hazard, high outrage). It emphasizes the need to assess – and continually reassess – which paradigm is called for by the specific communication environment you face.

Interview with Dr. Peter Sandman

by Andrew Findlater

Posted on the National Public Relations website, March 9, 2009

Note: This is the shortest audio introduction to my approach to risk communication. Naturally I prefer the longer ones.

Canadian PR firm National Public Relations was one of the sponsors that brought me to Vancouver in March 2009 to give a two-day risk communication seminar (jointly with my wife and colleague Jody Lanard), organized by the University of British Columbia. As part of the event, the company taped this seven-minute interview with me on the basics of my “Risk = Hazard + Outrage” formula. The tape was posted (and labeled a “podcast”) on the National Public Relations website, and the link was emailed to conference participants and National Public Relations clients. It’s no longer on the National Public Relations site, so I have posted it here.

Food Safety Risk Communications

Presented at the Maple Leaf Food Safety Symposium, Mississauga Canada, October 23, 2009

Note: This audio clip covers much the same ground as the Rio Tinto video clips listed above – but of course it’s much, much shorter and less detailed.

In August 2008, Listeria contamination in Maple Leaf packaged deli meats killed 21 elderly consumers, one of the largest food poisoning disasters in Canadian history. As one small part of its recovery efforts, Maple Leaf Foods sponsored a food safety symposium in October 2009, bringing together producers, retailers, and regulators to talk about lessons learned and ways to protect against Listeria. My presentation on “Food Safety Risk Communication” was inserted as respite from the technical material in most of the other speeches. I did my usual introduction to hazard versus outrage and the kinds of risk communication, and then offered a few food-specific examples (until I ran out of time). Audience comments and questions weren’t recorded; that’s what the occasional moments of dead air are.

Fundamentals of risk communication: How to talk to patients and the public about pandemic H1N1

Presented to the European Respiratory Society international conference, Vienna, Austria, September 14, 2009

Note: This audio clip covers much the same ground as the Rio Tinto video clips listed above – but of course it’s much, much shorter and less detailed.

The European Respiratory Society invited me give a 20-minute presentation on pandemic communication at its annual conference, as part of a panel on various aspects of pandemic H1N1. I pleaded for an extra hour right afterwards to go into more detail for those who wanted it. Some 20,000 respiratory disease doctors attended the conference; roughly 2,000 of them were at the panel; about 200 followed me to a smaller room for my extra hour (which I did jointly with my wife and colleague Jody Lanard, an M.D.). Only the panel presentation is posted on the ERS website. It’s mostly an introduction to the basics of risk communication (hazard versus outrage; precaution advocacy versus outrage management versus crisis communication), with some quick comments on the implications for pandemic communication. The meat was in the hour that followed, which unfortunately wasn’t recorded.

Three Paradigms of Radiological Risk Communication: Alerting, Reassuring, Guiding

Presented to the National Public Health Information Coalition, Miami Beach FL, October 21, 2009

Although this six-hour seminar was entitled “Three Paradigms of Radiological Risk Communication,” NPHIC asked me to go easy on the “radiological” part and give participants a broad introduction to my approach to risk communication, mentioning radiation issues from time to time. So that’s what I did.

Fair warning: These are not professional videos. NPHIC member Joe Rebele put a camera in the back of the room and let it run. You won’t lose much listening to the MP3 audio files on this site instead.

Part One (90 min.)

Despite its poor production values, Part One is a decent introduction to the hazard-versus-outrage distinction and the three paradigms of risk communication.

Part Two (155 min.)

If you’re interested, Part Two starts with 20 minutes or so on the seesaw and other risk communication games (thus completing the introductory segment). The rest of Part Two spends a little over an hour each on some key strategies of precaution advocacy and outrage management.

Part Three (72 min.)

Part Three is devoted to strategies of crisis communication.

Precaution Advocacy

Three Paradigms of Radiological Risk Communication: Alerting, Reassuring, Guiding

Presented to the National Public Health Information Coalition, Miami Beach FL, October 21, 2009

Although this six-hour seminar was entitled “Three Paradigms of Radiological Risk Communication,” NPHIC asked me to go easy on the “radiological” part and give participants a broad introduction to my approach to risk communication, mentioning radiation issues from time to time. So that’s what I did.

Fair warning: These are not professional videos. NPHIC member Joe Rebele put a camera in the back of the room and let it run. You won’t lose much listening to the MP3 audio files on this site instead.

Part Two (155 min.)

Despite its poor production values, Part Two includes a little over an hour on some key strategies of precaution advocacy. It’s preceded by about 20 minutes on the seesaw and other risk communication games, and followed by an hour or so on outrage management strategies. I have better videos posted on the games and on outrage management, but until I find a better segment to post on precaution advocacy, this one is better than nothing.

Part One (90 min.)

If you’re interested, Part One is an introduction to the hazard-versus-outrage distinction and the three paradigms of risk communication.

Part Three (72 min.)

Part Three is devoted to strategies of crisis communication.

Talking to the Public about Emergency Preparedness

Interview with Peter M. Sandman by Marisa Raphael, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, February 27, 2014

Marisa Raphael is Deputy Commissioner at the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She is also participating in the National Preparedness Leadership Institute (NPLI) at Harvard University. On February 27, 2014, she interviewed me for an hour by telephone on behalf of an NPLI project on ways to improve emergency preparedness communications with the general public. Although we spent a little time at the end of the interview covering some basics for communicating mid-crisis, we stuck mostly to pre-crisis communication, a kind of precaution advocacy. We covered two main topics. First we talked about why it’s so hard to build citizen support for government emergency preparedness expenditures, and what kind of messaging strategies are likeliest to lead to such support. Then we switched to a more conventional topic: how to motivate people to do their own personal, family, or neighborhood emergency preparedness.

Climate Change Risk Communication: Outrage Management, Not Just Precaution Advocacy

Taped for Freakonomics Radio, July 25, 2011

This was a 48-minute telephone interview with Stephen Dubner, for a Freakonomics Radio program (and podcast) on climate change. The interview never made it into the program/podcast, but excerpts were added to the Freakonomics website on November 29, 2011. The first 17 minutes of the interview are generic – Risk Communication 101, basically. The rest is grounded mostly in my 2009 column on “Climate Change Risk Communication: The Problem of Psychological Denial,” though Dubner periodically pushed me to speculate on new aspects of the topic. My main argument: Climate change risk communicators are good at informing and scaring apathetic people, but need an entirely different strategy – something more like outrage management – for people who are in denial about climate change.

Denial near and far

Broadcast on PRI’s “The World,” November 21, 2008

Radio reporter Jason Margolis of “The World” attended a conference of global climate change skeptics, decided they were more deniers than actual skeptics, and ended up with a 10-minute story on climate change denial. I was one of several experts he quoted to explore the reasons why so many people have trouble facing the threat of global warming. In our interview, I focused on some ways activist communications may unwittingly encourage audience denial. Jason used the part on guilt – on why telling people their lifestyle is destroying the earth may not be the best way to inspire them to action. My views are elaborated further in a 2009 column on “Climate Change Risk Communication: The Problem of Psychological Denial.”

Despite near certainty in new UN report, a climate of denial persists

Interview with Peter M. Sandman by Marco Werman, aired on “The World” on PRI (Public Radio International) and posted on its website, September 27, 2013

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its new report – claiming more certainty than ever before that the global warming threat is dire – Marco Werman of PRI’s “The World” interviewed me about why I thought many people might find the report’s conclusions hard to accept, and might go into a kind of psychological denial instead. The interview lasted about ten minutes, but was cut to less than five for airing. I made too many minor points that got used, albeit in abbreviated form. So my main point got almost completely lost – that climate change activists were their own worst enemies because they kept saying things that were likely to provoke or deepen people’s denial instead of things that could help people overcome their denial. For example, I told Marco, too many environmentalists were greeting the IPCC’s bad news triumphantly, almost gleefully – sounding more pleased that they were being proved right than devastated that the world’s in deep trouble. People who like their SUVs and are having a hard time accepting that they may have to give up their SUVs (that’s a kind of denial) may just barely be able to believe it if a fellow SUV fan sadly tells them so. They’re not about to believe it if it’s exultantly announced by someone who has hated the internal combustion engine since before global climate change was even an issue. For several better explanations of my thinking about climate change denial, see any of the other entries with “climate” and/or “denial” in their titles in the “On Environmental Activism” section of my Precaution Advocacy index.

Outrage Management

Outrage Management Course

Presented to the Rio Tinto mining company, Brisbane, Australia, September 16–17, 2010

In September 2010 I did a two-day outrage management seminar in Brisbane, Australia for the Rio Tinto mining company. With the company’s permission, I edited out all references to specific Rio Tinto controversies, and arranged what was left into a coherent sequence of twelve clips, starting with the basic “Risk = Hazard + Outrage” formula and ending with the organizational barriers to following the outrage management principles. Clips #1, #3, and #4 are listed in the “Introduction and Orientation“ section. All twelve are listed in sequence in my “Peter Sandman on Risk Communication” channel on Vimeo.

2.   Components of Outrage and a Sample Outrage Assessment

This video clip runs through the twelve principal components of outrage (voluntary versus coerced, natural versus industrial, etc.). Then it illustrates these components with a seat-of-the-pants “outrage assessment” of genetically modified food.

5.   First Outrage Management Strategy: Stake out the Middle

This video clip addresses one key outrage management strategy: staking out the middle ground by acknowledging your opponents’ best arguments right along with your own best arguments. A short excerpt from this clip has been posted on YouTube (more or less as an advertisement for the clip, and the course as a whole).

6.  Second Outrage Management Strategy: Acknowledge Prior Misbehavior

This selection addresses one key outrage management strategy: acknowledging and apologizing for your prior misbehaviors and errors. A short excerpt from this clip has been posted on YouTube (more or less as an advertisement for the clip, and the course as a whole).

7.  Third Outrage Management Strategy: Acknowledge Current Problems

This video clip addresses one key outrage management strategy: acknowledging your current problems.

8.  Fourth Outrage Management Strategy: Give Away the Credit

This selection addresses one key outrage management strategy: giving credit to your critics for improvements they pushed.

9.  Fifth Outrage Management Strategy: Share Control and Be Accountable

This selection addresses two key outrage management strategies: sharing control with stakeholders, and (when you’re unable or unwilling to share control) setting up accountability mechanisms so stakeholders can at least watch and criticize.

10.  Sixth Outrage Management Strategy: Get the Underlying Issues into the Room

This selection addresses one key outrage management strategy: getting underlying issues and motivations (such as greed and ego) at least “into the room,” if not actually on the table.

11.  Four Kinds of Stakeholders

This selection introduces the four kinds of stakeholders (fanatics, attentives, browsers, and inattentives), and outlines the very different outrage management goals for each.

12.  Organizational Barriers to Outrage Management

This selection addresses the internal barriers organizations must surmount to enable them to implement the strategies discussed in previous segments.

Risk = Hazard + Outrage: A Formula for Effective Risk Communication

Produced by the American Industrial Hygiene Association, Fairfax VA, 1991

This 111-minute video sold briskly for more than 20 years until the American Industrial Hygiene Association stopped distributing it in January 2012. Now it’s available for free on Vimeo (video) and on this site (audio). Unlike many of my videos, this one was professionally produced in a studio, with multiple cameras and an actual set. Although my standard spiel has changed some since 1991, everything here is still true and still useful. The video is especially valuable for its detailed discussion of the 12 principal outrage components link is to a PDF file and how to deal with them. These days I talk more about generic outrage management strategies, and less about these component-specific strategies. (Note that I’m using the original files from the AIHA DVD; some of the “parts” begin and end arbitrarily.)

If you’d rather read than watch/listen, I cover the same ground as this video in Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of my 1993 book, “Responding to Community Outrage: Strategies for Effective Risk Communication.” link is to a PDF file The book was also published and sold by AIHA, but is now available on this site without charge.

Implementing Risk Communication: Overcoming the Barriers

Produced by the American Industrial Hygiene Association, Fairfax VA, 1994

When people are excessively concerned about a small risk, the biggest problem isn’t figuring out what to do. It’s getting your company or agency to do it. After a six-minute introduction, this video is devoted to three kinds of barriers to implementation … and ways to overcome them:

In 1994 I wasn’t yet routinely using the term “outrage management.” In the terminology I now use, this video is all about overcoming cognitive, organizational, and psychological barriers to outrage management.

(This video was produced in 1994 by the American Industrial Hygiene Association. It went out of print in January 2011. With AIHA’s permission, the entire video is now available free of charge online.)

If you’d rather read than watch/listen, I cover the same ground as this video in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 of my 1993 book, “Responding to Community Outrage: Strategies for Effective Risk Communication.link is to a PDF file The book was also published and sold by AIHA, but is now available on this site without charge.

Atomic Show #205 – Peter Sandman teaches nuclear communicators

Podcast for the “Atomic Insights” website, May 31, 2013 (with Rod Adams, Margaret Harding, Meredith Angwin, and Suzy Hobbs-Baker)

Rod Adams runs a website called “Atomic Insights” that promotes nuclear power. In early May 2013 he discovered my approach to outrage management, and put posts on his own website and on an American Nuclear Society website urging nuclear power proponents to learn outrage management. The responses to his two posts led Rod to invite me to do this podcast.

The podcast itself runs 1 hour and 42 minutes. Most of it is a basic introduction to risk communication and then to outrage management: the hazard-versus-outrage distinction, the components of outrage, the three paradigms of risk communication, the key strategies of outrage management, etc. But I did try to focus especially on what the nuclear power industry and its supporters get wrong – for example, imagining that their core communication mistake is failing to sell their strengths effectively, whereas I believe it is failing to acknowledge their problems candidly. There are recommendations for nuclear communication throughout the podcast, and a Q&A at the end with Rod and fellow proponents Margaret Harding, Meredith Angwin, and Suzy Hobbs-Baker. The plan is to follow up with a second podcast, a more narrowly focused roundtable discussion among the five of us on nuclear power outrage management.

Social Media’s Impact on Reputation Management

Interview with Peter M. Sandman by Maura O’Malley, January 31, 2011

Maura O'Malley of Intellectual Property Magazine asked if she could interview me for an article on “management of reputations online” – particularly on how the rise of social media had affected the way companies manage (or should manage) reputational crises. In the 40-minute telephone interview that resulted, I argued that it has always been a mistake for companies to ignore, patronize, or attack their critics instead of being responsive. The growth of social media has made this mistake much more obvious and much more damaging, I said; even the most recalcitrant companies are beginning to learn the lesson. We also talked about the role of lawyers (the magazine’s main audience) in reputational controversies, plus some other topics. Maura’s article, entitled “Reputation 3.0,” link is to a PDF file was published in the March 2011 issue of Intellectual Property Magazine, pp. 20–22.

Outrage Management: A Tough Paradigm for Public Relations to Swallow

Interview with Peter M. Sandman by Scott Van Camp, March 10, 2011

PR News editor Scott Van Camp interviewed me on risk communication, and especially my “outrage management” approach to stakeholder controversies. He had already told me he thought the topic would be new and a bit startling to his readers. So I focused a lot of the 50-minute interview on the difficulties PR people have accepting the core strategies of outrage management. If you’re used to figuring out how to get apathetic people interested in your client’s business, I pointed out, it’s a tough adjustment when suddenly you’re addressing an audience that’s all-too-interested – hostile or at least skeptical regarding your client’s business. I have also posted the March 14 issue of PR News containing Scott’s story, entitled “ Risk Communication Formula: Avoid Half-Truths, Manage the Outrage.” link is to a PDF file It’s a decent enough summary of my approach, but is noteworthy mainly for the skeptical interest shown by the PR people Scott interviewed about me.

Three Paradigms of Radiological Risk Communication: Alerting, Reassuring, Guiding

Presented to the National Public Health Information Coalition, Miami Beach FL, October 21, 2009

Although this six-hour seminar was entitled “Three Paradigms of Radiological Risk Communication,” NPHIC asked me to go easy on the “radiological” part and give participants a broad introduction to my approach to risk communication, mentioning radiation issues from time to time. So that’s what I did.

Fair warning: These are not professional videos. NPHIC member Joe Rebele put a camera in the back of the room and let it run. You won’t lose much listening to the MP3 audio files on this site instead.

Part Two (155 min.)

Part Two includes a little over an hour on outrage management strategies. I think the Rio Tinto outrage management clips are much better – but if you want something short and don’t mind the poor production values, the last hour or so of Part Two might meet your needs. It’s preceded by about 20 minutes on the seesaw and other risk communication games and a little over an hour on precaution advocacy strategies.

Part One (90 min.)

If you’re interested, Part One is an introduction to the hazard-versus-outrage distinction and the three paradigms of risk communication.

Part Three (72 min.)

Part Three is devoted to strategies of crisis communication.

Climate Change Risk Communication: Outrage Management, Not Just Precaution Advocacy

Taped for Freakonomics Radio, July 25, 2011

This was a 48-minute telephone interview with Stephen Dubner, for a forthcoming Freakonomics Radio program (and podcast) on climate change. The interview never made it into the program/podcast, but excerpts were added to the Freakonomics website on November 29, 2011. The first 17 minutes of the interview are generic – Risk Communication 101, basically. The rest is grounded mostly in my 2009 column on “Climate Change Risk Communication: The Problem of Psychological Denial,” though Dubner periodically pushed me to speculate on new aspects of the topic. My main argument: Climate change risk communicators are good at informing and scaring apathetic people, but need an entirely different strategy – something more like outrage management – for people who are in denial about climate change.

Public Communications Regarding the Detection of Lead in Washington, D.C. Water

by Jody Lanard, M.D.

Testimony before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water, U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, Oversight Hearing on the Detection of Lead in D.C. Drinking Water, April 7, 2004

When a U.S. Senate committee decided to look at a lead-in-drinking-water controversy in Washington, D.C., it invited my wife and colleague Jody Lanard to speak. Her written testimony reviews some of our principles of crisis communication and outrage management, and applies them to the way Washington’s water utility was handling the finding of too much lead. The link below is to the video record of the hearing itself on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee website. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s comments about Jody’s testimony (and about risk communication) start just after 2:02:00. Jody’s oral testimony starts at 2:35:24. Her Q&A starts at 2:50:20, and includes several of her favorite teaching examples.

BP’s Communication Response to the Deepwater Horizon Spill

BBC Radio 4 interview with Peter M. Sandman, broadcast on the “PM” newscast, May 3, 2010

On May 3 I did a brief interview with BBC Radio on risk communication aspects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the interview was prerecorded, to my surprise they used the whole thing. In addition to the MP3 file with the interview, I have posted a summary of what I said and what else I’d have liked to say. My later reflections on the spill were more critical of BP. See for example my September 2010 column, “Risk Communication Lessons from the BP Spill.”

Crisis Communication

Crisis Communication: Guidelines for Action

by Peter M. Sandman and Jody Lanard

Produced by the American Industrial Hygiene Association, Fairfax VA, 2004

This 166-minute video, produced by the American Industrial Hygiene Association in 2004, covers 25 crisis communication recommendations, focusing chiefly on the most difficult messaging challenges that even experienced crisis communicators may get wrong. AIHA stopped distributing the video in January 2012, so now it᾿s available for free on Vimeo (video) and on this site (audio). Unlike many of my videos, this one was professionally produced in a studio, with multiple cameras and an actual set – and it features not just me but also my wife and colleague Jody Lanard. Although some of the examples may be dated – there᾿s a lot of SARS and bird flu throughout the video – the recommendations themselves haven᾿t changed. A complete set of handouts to accompany this video is available.

Part One (51:59)

Part One introduces where Jody and I think crisis communication fits in risk communication (high hazard, high outrage), and then discusses the first six of our 25 crisis communication recommendations:

  1. Don᾿t over-reassure.
  2. Put reassuring information in subordinate clauses.
  3. Err on the alarming side.
  4. Acknowledge uncertainty.
  5. Share dilemmas.
  6. Acknowledge opinion diversity.
Part Two (57:11)

Part Two covers numbers 7 through 16 of the 25 crisis communication recommendations discussed in the video:

  1. Be willing to speculate.
  2. Don᾿t overdiagnose or overplan for panic.
  3. Don᾿t aim for zero fear.
  4. Don᾿t forget emotions other than fear.
  5. Don᾿t ridicule the public᾿s emotions.
  6. Legitimize people᾿s fears.
  7. Tolerate early over-reactions.
  8. Establish your own humanity.
  9. Tell people what to expect.
  10. Offer people things to do.
Part Three (57:10)

Part Three covers numbers 17 through 25 of the 25 crisis communication recommendations:

  1. Let people choose their own actions.
  2. Ask more of people.
  3. Acknowledge errors, deficiencies, and misbehaviors.
  4. Apologize often for errors, deficiencies, and misbehaviors.
  5. Be explicit about “anchoring frames.”
  6. Be explicit about changes in official opinion, prediction, or policy.
  7. Don᾿t lie, and don᾿t tell half-truths.
  8. Aim for total candor and transparency.
  9. Be careful with risk comparisons.

Emergency Risk Communication CDCynergy video clips

Produced by the U.S. CDC and others as part of a 2003 CD-ROM

The “Emergency Risk Communication CDCynergy” CD-ROM from which these video clips were taken was originally produced in 2003 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Office of Communication), the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Prospect Center of the American Institutes for Research, and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. The complete CD-ROM can be ordered. Much of the CD-ROM is also available without charge online, but many of the online links no longer work.

I was one of a number of risk communication experts who contributed to the CD-ROM. Three of my written contributions have long been posted on this website:

The following short video clips on various aspects of crisis communication were part of the CD-ROM but no longer load in the online version. So I have posted them here, converted to Flash videos and .mpeg4.

“Move in the Uncomfortable Direction” (2 min.)

Crisis communication strategies have a side that practitioners find comfortable and a side they find uncomfortable – withholding information versus total candor, for example. Best practice is somewhere in the middle. To get there, practitioners need to move in the uncomfortable direction.

“Give People Things to Do” (4 min.)

Giving people things to do – and better yet, choices among things to do – helps them cope with the fear and other feelings that crises arouse.

“Manage the Risk Communication Seesaw” (3 min.)

Seesaws prevail in crisis communication as they do in most of risk communication, and practitioners need to climb onto the side they don’t want the public on. To get blamed less by others, for example, it helps to blame yourself more.

“Be Willing to Speculate” (2 min.)

Crisis communication absolutely requires speculation; you can’t confine what you say to things that are certain. The trick is to avoid speculating overconfidently or over-reassuringly.

“Here’s How to Speculate” (2 min.)

Tell what you know and what you don’t. Sound as sure and as unsure as you actually are. Focus on both likeliest scenarios and worst case scenarios – and keep the distinction clear.

“Let Your Feelings Show” (1 min.)

To be an effective role model for others, you have to show that you’re feeling what they’re feeling (fear, anger, etc.). Watching you control your feelings helps people control theirs.

“Tell Stories” (1 min.)

Telling stories about yourself helps humanize you, which helps people bear the crisis better.

“Choose the Best Spokesperson” (3 min.)

You want someone who has communication skill, risk communication training, and technical expertise. You also want someone who likes the job, is willing to simplify, and has enough stature in your organization to make decisions and keep promises.

“Find a Crisis Communicator” (1 min.)

You want someone who knows how to guide people who are rightly upset. That isn’t necessarily the same communicator who’s good at arousing concern in people who are unwisely apathetic.

Three Paradigms of Radiological Risk Communication: Alerting, Reassuring, Guiding

Presented to the National Public Health Information Coalition, Miami Beach FL, October 21, 2009

Although this six-hour seminar was entitled “Three Paradigms of Radiological Risk Communication,” NPHIC asked me to go easy on the “radiological” part and give participants a broad introduction to my approach to risk communication, mentioning radiation issues from time to time. So that’s what I did.

Fair warning: These are not professional videos. NPHIC member Joe Rebele put a camera in the back of the room and let it run. You won’t lose much listening to the MP3 audio files on this site instead.

Part Three (72 min.)

Despite its poor production values, Part Three is the most complete rundown on crisis communication strategies I have so far posted in video or audio.

Part One (90 min.)

If you’re interested, Part One is a decent introduction to the hazard-versus-outrage distinction and the three paradigms of risk communication.

Part Two (155 min.)

Part Two starts with 20 minutes of so on the seesaw and other risk communication games (thus completing the introductory segment). The rest of Part Two spends a little over an hour each on some key strategies of precaution advocacy and outrage management.

How to Lead during Times of Trouble

A roundtable discussion at “The Public as an Asset, Not a Problem: A Summit on Leadership during Bioterrorism,” Johns Hopkins University Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies, Washington DC, February, 2003

In early February of 2003, I attended a wonderful conference on bioterrorism, focused on “the public as an asset, not a problem.” The panel I participated in was about how to lead a community during times of trouble. Most of the panelists had actually led their communities through various crises, from the 2001 anthrax attacks to Oklahoma City’s bombing; I was added, along with the Washington Post’s Sally Quinn, so there would be at least two panelists whose experience was observing rather than doing. I made basically two points: that the public can take it when officials or experts disagree, and that fear is appropriate in crisis situations and officials shouldn’t try to “allay” it.

BP’s Communication Response to the Deepwater Horizon Spill

BBC Radio 4 interview with Peter M. Sandman, broadcast on the “PM” newscast, May 3, 2010

On May 3 I did a brief interview with BBC Radio on risk communication aspects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the interview was prerecorded, to my surprise they used the whole thing. In addition to the MP3 file with the interview, I have posted a summary of what I said and what else I’d have liked to say. My later reflections on the spill were more critical of BP. See for example my September 2010 column, “Risk Communication Lessons from the BP Spill.”

Infectious Diseases

Vaccination Safety Skepticism: Public Health’s Self-Inflicted Wound
(Three-part video interview conducted October 27, 2010)

When I was asked to do an interview for a documentary on vaccines and vaccine safety, I agreed on condition that I be allowed to post the entire interview online. I focused my comments on public skepticism about vaccine safety – and especially on what vaccination proponents do that exacerbates the skepticism and what they can do to ameliorate it. The interviewer’s questions have been edited out, but the rest is here, uncut, in three parts.

Part One

Part One discusses: the kinds of vaccination audiences – apathetic versus hostile; suppressing the other side’s 5% of the truth; being empathic and being accountable; and other risk communication aspects of vaccination safety skepticism.

Part Two

Part Two discusses: vaccination/autism controversies; who’s in charge of vaccine safety research; what’s left out of flu vaccination messaging; and other risk communication aspects of vaccination safety skepticism.

Part Three

Part Three discusses: lying about polio; different messaging for different audiences; why “good guys” mislead more; and other risk communication aspects of vaccination safety skepticism.

Trust the Public with More of the Truth: What I Learned in 40 Years in Risk Communication

Presented to the National Public Health Information Coalition, Miami Beach FL, October 20, 2009

The National Public Health Information Coalition is an organization of federal, state, and local health department communicators. NPHIC asked me to give its 2009 “Berreth Lecture” at its annual conference in Miami Beach – and specified that the presentation should be about myself and my career, not the substance of risk communication. But as I walked the group through my 40 years in risk communication, a substantive theme emerged: that public health communicators are at least as untrustworthy as corporate communicators, that nobody has the courage to trust the public with those parts of the truth that conflict with the message, and that public health agencies need to learn how to cope better with mistrust and outrage. I illustrated my thesis with a lot of flu and other infectious diseases examples.

Note: I had written the speech out in advance – something I almost never do – but I departed from my text more than a little. So even those who prefer watching or listening to reading might want to look at it.

Vaccine Risk Communication: Dishonesty Makes Things Worse

Presented at a conference on “Research Integrity Challenges in Vaccine Development and Distribution for Public Health Emergencies,” sponsored by the Drexel University School of Public Health and the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia PA, September 12, 2011

Posted October, 7, 2011

My 40-minute speech is basically a distillation of points I made at greater length in my three-part interview on “Vaccine Safety Skepticism: Public Health’s Self-Inflicted Wound.” But there are a few new points.

The presentation was part of a panel on “Research Integrity Issues with Vaccines and Public Trust,” chaired by Michael Yudell of Drexel University. The other panelists were Virginia Caine and Steve Ostroff. Our joint Q&A is only partly about vaccine risk communication, of course.

More Spin than Science: Risk Communication about the H5N1 Bioengineering Research Controversy (speech notes and audio)

Presented via telephone at a conference on “Freedom in Biological Research: How to Consider Accidental or Intentional Risks for Populations,” Fondation Mérieux and Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, Veyrier-du-lac, France, February 8, 2013

The controversy over whether scientists should be allowed to bioengineer potentially pandemic bird flu viruses had pretty much died down by the time I was asked to speak at a February 2013 conference on the issue in France. Since I had criticized the controversy’s consistently miserable risk communication, I was delighted that at least one post mortem conference wanted a risk communication perspective. But I had prior commitments and couldn’t go. When the organizers invited me to present by telephone instead, I jumped at the chance. My speech notes are more extensive than I had time for in the actual presentation. On the other hand, the MP3 recording of the actual presentation includes about 25 minutes of Q&A. My presentation was mostly borrowed from my previous articles and Guestbook entries on the controversy, all of which are listed and linked at the end of the notes.

Risk Communication in Healthcare Settings Podcasts

Taped for the British Columbia (Canada) Provincial Health Services Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health, February 15, 2011

This was a 50-minute telephone interview later divided into four podcasts. The third and fourth podcasts focus on healthcare-related scenarios and challenges, many of which involve infectious diseases. The first two are basically generic and are listed above in the “Introduction and Orientation” section.

3.  Risk Communication Scenarios – Flu Shots, Hand-Washing, Ceiling Lifts, SARS

This audio clip identifies some risk communication strategies appropriate for four specific healthcare scenarios. Three of them – persuading healthcare workers to get their flu shots, to wash their hands often, and to use patient ceiling lifts – involve varying mixes of precaution advocacy and outrage management. The fourth – SARS – is a crisis communication scenario. The discussion of ceiling lifts gets into the “tranches” in thinking through employee safety communication. The discussion of SARS emphasizes the need to acknowledge uncertainty about an emerging crisis that might be horrific and might fizzle.

4.  Risk Communication Challenges – Confidentiality, Uncertainty, Wrap-Up

This audio clip focuses on two challenges that healthcare communicators face often: confidentiality and uncertainty. The discussion of confidentiality emphasizes the difference between confidentiality as an excuse and real confidentiality problems, and offers some guidelines for handling the latter. The discussion of uncertainty argues for matter-of-factly acknowledging not just uncertainty but also differences of opinion within your organization. The podcast closes with a brief wrap-up on three key characteristics of good risk communication: honesty, empathy, and strategy.

Talking about the Vaccination-Autism Connection … to Somali Parents of Autistic Children

Interview with Peter M. Sandman by Lorna Benson, April 27, 2011

Lorna Benson of Minnesota Public Radio asked if she could interview me about a long-brewing controversy between the Somali community in Minnesota and state health officials over the high rate of autism among Somali children in Minnesota and the resurgence of measles in the Somali community because many Somali parents suspect a connection and choose not to vaccinate their kids. The 35-minute radio interview took place on April 27. It focused on ways I though the Minnesota Department of Health might deal more empathically with Somali concerns – and, more generally, on my criticism of the public health establishment for sometimes sounding more deeply committed to defending the safety of the MMR vaccine than to vaccinating kids against measles or seeking an answer to the riddle of autism. Lorna's story (“On day of vaccine forum, 2 more measles cases confirmed in Minn.”) ended up focusing mostly on a Minnesota “vaccination awareness forum” that had also taken place on April 27; toward the end of the story she linked some of my comments to some of what she had heard at the forum.

Risk Communication Before and During Epidemics

Presentation at “Bulls, Bears, and Birds: Preparing the Financial Industry for a Pandemic,” a September 23, 2005 New York City conference sponsored by the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC, Deutsche Bank, and Contingency Planning Exchange, Inc.

Despite the title, this brief speech focused mostly on pre-pandemic communication, and especially on the need to overcome official “fear of fear” and scare people into pandemic preparedness.

The CDC’s Pandemic Data versus the CDC’s Pandemic Communications: Outtakes from a Media Interview

On December 2, 2009, and again on December 15, I criticized the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in my “Swine Flu Pandemic Communication Update” for (in my view) intentionally misinterpreting its own data on the severity of the swine flu pandemic and on which age cohorts were most at risk. These criticisms aroused surprisingly little media interest. But a couple of reporters did call for interviews. Here are some excerpts from my side of one telephone interview. No story based on this interview ever materialized. The details are no longer of much interest, except as a pristine case study of successful CDC dishonesty.

Each of these links launches a single MP3 audio file.

Two Bird Flu Pandemic Radio Interviews

In December 2005, at the height of public and expert concern about the possibility of a bird flu pandemic (which hasn’t materialized so far), Jon Hamilton of National Public Radio did a two-hour interview with me and my wife and colleague Jody Lanard. He later used the interview for two stories on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Staving Off Panic in a Flu Pandemic

by Jon Hamilton

Broadcast on “Morning Edition,” NPR (National Public Radio), January 10, 2006

This is the second “Morning Edition” story by NPR’s Jon Hamilton that draws on his two-hour December 2005 interview with me and my wife and colleague Jody Lanard. This one uses other sources as well, and focuses on what governments should do to avoid fostering panic in (or before) a pandemic. Hamilton makes good use of our concept of “panic panic” – official fear that the public may be panicking when there is no evidence that it is doing so.

Sifting Through Official Speak on Bird Flu

by Jon Hamilton

Broadcast on “Morning Edition,” NPR (National Public Radio), December 28, 2005

NPR’s Jon Hamilton came to New Jersey with a dozen audio clips of top U.S. officials talking about bird flu, and spent two hours going over the clips with me and my wife and colleague Jody Lanard. He put a little of what he got into an eight-minute story on what they’re doing right and what’s not so right in bird flu and pandemic risk communication. Jody and I think Hamilton did an excellent job of getting to some of the big issues: the need to find a balance between excessive fear and insufficient fear, the importance of getting the public involved rather than pretending the government will do it all, etc.

Seven Swine Flu Pandemic Radio Interviews

Among the radio interviews I gave during the swine flu pandemic of 2009–2010, these meet two technical specifications: They are still available online, and they address issues relevant to more than just that fading-into-history pandemic.

Flu Precautions: Making Sense of CDC Advice

by Deborah Franklin

Broadcast on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” November 6, 2009

The CDC website has detailed advice for parents with a child home sick with swine flu. But it’s not necessarily very practical or user-friendly advice. Deborah Franklin’s story on NPR’s “Morning Edition” features some of the ways the CDC’s recommendations might be a tad unrealistic. She used me to say the obvious: that there’s nothing wrong with telling parents how to achieve maximum infection control at home, but it would help to offer a Plan B for parents who can’t or won’t do it all. The link includes both the audio clip and a print version of the story from NPR’s website. Available on this site: An email I sent the reporter (“Prioritizing among Precautions: The Best Is the Enemy of the Good”) before the interview with some thoughts on public health professionals’ reluctance to help people prioritize among their recommended precautions.

Marketing Flu Vaccine: A Tough Sell for Many

by Richard Knox

Broadcast on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” November 2, 2009

Richard Knox interviewed me for nearly an hour on how I think the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should speak to people who aren’t just worried about the safety of the swine flu vaccine, but are also mistrustful of government and not inclined simply to take the CDC’s word that the vaccine is safe. I talked a lot about the sorts of accountability mechanisms smart corporations use, and how the CDC could use similar approaches if it weren’t so deeply offended by people’s mistrust. The resulting story in “All Things Considered” used only a little of the interview, of course. The link includes both the audio clip and a print version of the story from NPR’s website.

Health Check

by Claudia Hammond

Broadcast on BBC World Service, May 10–12, 2009

“Health Check” is a weekly program on BBC radio. This audio clip deals with people’s emotional reactions to swine flu. It starts with a report from Mexico City, followed by an interview with me. I point out that officials suffer from “panic panic,” excessively worried that the public will panic, but that in most crisis situations (this one included) apathy is a much bigger problem than panic. I also talk about the role of denial, and emphasize that what officials need to do is to legitimize people’s fears – not tell them they shouldn’t be afraid.

H1N1 outbreak revealed seasonal flu lingered in Minn.

by Lorna Benson

Broadcast and posted on Minnesota Public Radio, May 6, 2009

This overview of recent swine flu developments discusses people’s sense that initial warnings were overblown, and includes my concern that authorities will hesitate to risk still more credibility by doing what they should do: warn people that swine flu may still pose a serious threat and that they should use the current calm to get better prepared. This site has both a transcript and an audio file.

Communicating the Message of Swine Flu: An Expert’s Opinion

by Grace Hood

Broadcast on KUNC radio, May 5, 2009

Grace Hood made a mistake at the start of this four-minute interview when she said I told her some people are panicking about swine flu. And I overstated things pretty badly myself when I said that at the start of the outbreak the experts were “on the phone in the middle of the night” worrying that swine flu might be “the granddaddy of all pandemics.” Despite both errors, this is a pretty solid interview on two key points I keep stressing: (a) that a good pandemic warning needs to be simultaneously scary and tentative; and (b) that the U.S. government didn’t do much to urge people to prepare when it looked like a severe pandemic might be imminent, so it’s hard to imagine it’ll do more now that the sense of imminence has gone.

Swine Flu Questions and Answers

by Lisa Mullins (interview with Peter M. Sandman and Christine Gorman)

Broadcast on PRI’s “The World” (National Public Radio), April 30, 2009

Long-time health journalist Christine Gorman and I chatted with host Lisa Mullins for about 20 minutes. PRI used about half of it. I spent a lot of my time riding my hobbyhorse that the government needs to do more to urge people to prepare in case a serious pandemic is around the corner. But Lisa got us talking about other things as well, notably why it doesn’t make a lot of sense to close the Mexican border when lots of people on this side of the border are already carrying the flu virus, while lots of trucks on the other side are carrying goods we need.

Swine Flu Precautions: Figuring Out Which Ones Make Sense

by Stephen Evans (interview with Peter M. Sandman)

Broadcast on BBC World Service “Business Daily,” April 29, 2009

This is only marginally about risk communication. The “Business Daily” reporter’s working hypothesis was that swine flu precautions – individual and societal – are excessive given how few people have died compared to the fatalities from many other risks (worker accidents, for example, not to mention the seasonal flu). I tried to explain that what’s scary about swine flu isn’t what has already happened; it’s what might (or might not) happen. It’s hard to choose precautions when the risk in question could end up catastrophic or trivial or anywhere in the middle. Going further and further beyond my field of expertise, I ended up explaining why I think dispersing antivirals nearer to population centers probably makes sense and closing airports probably doesn’t. The editors pretty much left my risk communication points on the cutting room floor (the psychological benefits of taking precautions, for example), and ran with my off-the-cuff amateur opinions about infection management. Not their fault, of course; I was the one answering the damn questions.

Fundamentals of risk communication: How to talk to patients and the public about pandemic H1N1

Presented to the European Respiratory Society international conference, Vienna, Austria, September 14, 2009

Note: Despite its title, this audio clip is mostly introduction to risk communication, with just passing references to pandemic communication.

The European Respiratory Society invited me give a 20-minute presentation on pandemic communication at its annual conference, as part of a panel on various aspects of pandemic H1N1. I pleaded for an extra hour right afterwards to go into more detail for those who wanted it. Some 20,000 respiratory disease doctors attended the conference; roughly 2,000 of them were at the panel; about 200 followed me to a smaller room for my extra hour (which I did jointly with my wife and colleague Jody Lanard, an M.D.). Only the panel presentation is posted on the ERS website. It’s mostly an introduction to the basics of risk communication (hazard versus outrage; precaution advocacy versus outrage management versus crisis communication), with some quick comments on the implications for pandemic communication. The meat was in the hour that followed, which unfortunately wasn’t recorded.

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